Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 4.7.21

sunset hills | Could e-commerce behemoth Amazon trademark the term Foods R Us? (That’s not a question, Alexa, but sometimes I forget you don’t understand humor.) So, we hear Amazon may be expanding its Amazon Fresh grocery concept to the metro, reportedly into the former Toys R Us store at 3600 S. Lindbergh Blvd. in Sunset Hills, just south of the Watson Road overpass. Presently Amazon operates about a dozen of the groceries in California and the Windy City. Schnucks, Dierbergs and maybe even Walmart are probably listening for footsteps coming up behind them, and fast. (No word on whether Amazon Fresh also will sell books, which was the company’s original business line back when we all should have bought stock in Jeff Bezos’ little internet startup when it premiered in July 1995.) The developer is seeking incentives from the city, of course, and has not divulged the name of its potential tenant for 25,000-some square feet. Amazon told the Business Journal it won’t comment on “rumors and speculation.” You sure wouldn’t want to make this 800-pound gorilla angry. (We hear Amazon Fresh has an Alexa-style ‘personal shopper.’ Goody gumdrops!) Anyhow, it seems Amazon could afford nearly any kind of financial risk, as the fourth quarter of 2020 was its most successful ever, despite the pandemic—actually, perhaps because of it. In the metro, Amazon has been spreading like dandelions: a 270,000-square-foot sort center in North County; a ‘4-star’ retail store at the Galleria; warehouses and/or distribution centers in St. Peters, Hazelwood and the Metro East; and a purported ‘last-mile’ facility in St. Peters. In 2020, Amazon posted obscenely high earnings as, by the millions, quarantine-idled shoppers ordered everything but the kitchen sink—well, probably a few of those, too. It screwed up the supply chain to the world maybe even worse than a container ship wedged in the Suez Canal. So, Amazon hired nearly a half-million more workers at the drop of Bezos’ hat. Bezos needs one to avoid getting sunburnt. Since he’s stepped down as CEO, one would hope he would find ways to spend a couple of billion out in the sun. That is, if he can find his way out of his castle. I mean, the multibillionaire probably gets lost on the way to the bathroom in his own house. In my often-sentient opinion, Bezos and his ilk are the problem with—not the solution to—more of us reaching our American dream. His warehouse workers make around $13.75 an hour. According to Forbes, Bezos pulls in more than $8.9 million an hour. And he’s worried about unionization?


the metro
It’s about time! Well, this item is. Lawmakers in our esteemed Show Me State are weighing bills to make daylight saving time permanent. State Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-Oakville, reportedly has said that many of us would appreciate that extra hour of daylight upon returning home. Of course we would—depending on how many of us, once this thing that’s going around isn’t going around anymore, will return to a workplace and no longer have to work from home. That remains to be seen. Offices ain’t what they used to be, and may never be again. And who goes to work and does a straight 9 to 5, anyhow? Many employers may figure out that it’s not necessary to see you all day every day, because Zoom is just so convenient. And some of your employees do good work in their pajama pants, with many of your best doing award-winning work while wearing no pants at all. So, there’s all that. But then, what about somebody’s kids having to wait in the dark for a school bus in the morning, Monday through Friday, once—and if—the CDC, state and local authorities allow them back to the classroom? Well, that’s another kettle of fish. (You know, since March 2020, I’d bet some folks actually have been fishing during Zoom meetings. Not that I would even have considered such a thing.) Anyhow, over the last couple of years, daylight saving time has started earlier and standard time started later. It’s not rocket science, or even physics. It’s kind of a mixture of common sense and primary school arithmetic. The amounts of daylight on Sept. 21 and March 21 are about the same, Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year, and June 21 is the longest. There’s only so much day and so much night to go around, and precious little government can do about that.


grand center
‘Arts Without Borders’ is how The Sheldon taglines itself in the postcard we received about its Family Reunion gala coming up this Saturday, April 10. With a free livestream starting at 7 p.m. and a lineup including but not limited to Grammy-winning mandolinist Chris Thile (pictured), jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and country legacy Rosanne Cash, it’d be hard to put up a border around that. I mean, criminy—it misses only hip hop, gospel, Metallica and maybe a couple dozen or so other genres. The event is produced by the Engelhardt and Steward family foundations and other generous donors. You, too, can consider supporting the unique, historic venue in the Grand Center Arts District during this tough time for all, from fans and staff to the artists, of course. Patron tickets start at $500. Virtual and in-person opportunities are available. Y’all come, hear? (Side dish optional.) Registration is requested at thesheldon.org.


notable neighbors
benton park
Architecture was one of the main things that intrigued Tami Brown when she moved here from Cleveland in the summer of 2019 to take the helm of the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station and settled in the historic Benton Park neighborhood. She’d been general manager at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium since it opened in 2012. It’s ensconced in the Powerhouse, from whence the city’s trolleys and electric trains got their ‘juice’ back in the day. And what could we ever say to do justice to St. Louis Union Station, once one of the busiest railroad terminals in the world, converted in 1985 into a shopping mall and entertainment complex—now home to arguably the finest aquarium in the Midwest? Well, it’s always been home to one of the nicest hotels in the metro. Guests at the Curio by Hilton can look over a vast expanse where travelers used to rush to trains and imagine 13,000 critters that occupy dozens of habitats in the 120,000-square-foot, two-story, 1 million-gallon aquarium—250,000 gallons of salt water for the sharks alone. Here, as in Cleveland, the built environment is part of the charm for Brown. “They’re both in historic buildings, which have a different ‘feel,’” she says. How so? “Most aquariums are built in a so-called ‘black box.’” Ours is not just a series of huge tanks to watch ocean, lake and river dwellers and observe unique habitats such as the one where otters named Sawyer, Thatcher and Finn frolic to the delight of visitors. It’s entertaining, of course, but that’s not how deep Brown intends to dive. “Our vision for the aquarium is to keep integrating new technology into the guest experience,” she points out. Watching is one thing; hands-on, interactive learning is quite another. But it’s been difficult for Brown and her staff to fully immerse themselves in many such educational opportunities with COVID-19 protocols still ruling our lives. High school students can’t ‘shadow’ the biologists at present, and diving opportunities have been curtailed. “We intend to layer those experiences on what we already have,” Brown says. The aquarium opened in December 2019 but was able to operate for only 11 weeks and four days, notes Brown, who keeps track. One might expect her background to be in marine biology or some such; it’s more to the business, operations and marketing side of things. “Our biologists have been very patient with me,” she says with a chuckle. Brown’s roots are in the Buckeye State: Prior to her stint at the aquarium there, she was VP of marketing at Positively Cleveland, the nonprofit dedicated to driving the region’s economic vitality through tourism. She’s promoted and operated attractions in Northeast Ohio, ranging from the Western Reserve Historical Society and the Center for Contemporary Art to the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland International Film Festival. A former board president of the Ohio Travel Association, Brown has a B.A. from Miami University of Ohio. But now her feet are plenty wet in the Mississippi, so to speak, and Lake Erie water has all but dried off. “The aquarium is so new, and there’s so much more to come,” she promises. “New habitats, new animals.” Special events, many of them livestreamed, have continued throughout the pandemic, and are archived. See for yourself at stlouisaquarium.com/the-stream.

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