It all started in Atlanta: Will Smith, managing director of New + Found investment firm, was living there when his father, the company’s CEO, Steve Smith, visited. Smith showed his dad bustling, mixed-use developments around the city, including Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market. The markets were full of restaurants, shops, offices and most importantly, people. The old warehouses were turned into places people took their families or explored with their friends on weekends.
It didn’t take the Smiths long to realize they’d struck gold.
“I said ‘We gotta figure out a way to do this in St. Louis.’ We both kind of said that at the same time,” Smith said. And thus, the inspiration for City Foundry STL was born.
The firm acquired the former Century Electric complex nearly six years before opening what is now known as City Foundry STL. The 350,000-square-foot complex has a mix of buildings and land in Midtown, showcasing architectural features demonstrative of St. Louis’ history as an industrial hub.
After years of planning and development, City Foundry STL officially opened its Food Hall at City Foundry on Aug. 11, 2021. The Food Hall is a main attraction of the market, featuring a variety of vendors. Local businesses make up the booths within the hall, some of them moving brick-and-mortar restaurants to be inside of the innovative new space.
Kalbi Taco Shack, an Asian-fusion restaurant in the Food Hall, was one of those vendors. After originally opening on Cherokee Street, owner and head chef Sue Wong-Shackelford heard about the Foundry and immediately knew her family’s restaurant belonged there. The Smiths had actually visited the original location and loved it and Wong-Shackelford had seen the development while still only populated by workers in hard hats and the dust of new construction. Within the first few weeks alone of being open, she knew she’d made the right decision.
“It was crazy. We sold 16,000 tacos in the month of August,” Wong-Shackelford said. The trend has continued, with Kalbi Taco Shack consistently selling out of food and harboring lines wrapping around its section of the Food Hall. As someone raised in the restaurant industry and always dreaming of opening her own restaurant with family, she’s been overwhelmed with excitement at the success of the Foundry since its opening just over a year ago.
A sense of community has developed for the business, not only through a new customer base (including many regulars), but also through the relationships developed with other vendors in close quarters.
“There are times when people run out of certain things and they’ll come borrow from us, or [ask for] taste-testing. It’s a good, close community,” she said.
Community is just what the Foundry is meant to establish. St. Louis, notoriously considered unwalkable, needed somewhere in Midtown for people to meet and explore local businesses within a walkable area, according to Smith.
“It’s about curating people and small businesses that have that same mindset that aren’t interested in necessarily just getting as big as possible, as quickly as possible. We want this to be a unique experience,” he said. “We’ve tried to bring this collection to create something that St. Louis can be excited about. Proud that we have [it], but also something that they want to participate in and be a part of.”
Over the past 16 months of being open, the community at the Foundry has been expanding. In addition to the Food Hall, retail vendors moved into the development in 2021, as well. One of those retailers, HUSTL3 CIT4, tries to embody the St. Louis community within its business model.
Featuring clothing from local designers and events meant to uplift local musicians and artists, HUSTL3 CIT4 finds success through networking and staying true to its roots.
Co-founder Trimayne Boyd started as a clothes designer working in an artists’ cooperative studio. After hearing about the Foundry, he and other co-owners knew they wanted in. The store is one of the first retail vendors at the market, and considers the location key in its success.
“I think it’s hard for local designers, in general. But I think City Foundry embodies local support and people who shop here also value those things,” Boyd said. “People want to come because it’s even bigger than clothing, shoes. Musical artists come and they want to shoot [music] videos, and so on.”
Throughout their time at the Foundry, the business and brand have launched products from a variety of local designers, including having pop-up shops for designers who aren’t even featured in their stores. Musicians shoot music videos there, as Boyd mentioned, and bigger musicians like St. Louis-native Smino have been seen on stage repping designs from HUSTL3 CIT4.
“Having a place where people enjoy being [there] whether they plan on spending money that day or not, that’s also a plus too. So just creating that vibe, a welcoming vibe, and that sense of community,” he said.
Other vendors have felt their respective communities flourish, too, at the Foundry. May’s Place, a sustainable fashion and lifestyle retailer, has only been at City Foundry STL since late September, but is already feeling a different vibe in its new location.
The store hosts “The Night Market” quarterly, an event featuring about 40 vendors, a mix between vintage curators, designers, jewelry designers and more. The Foundry started hosting the Night Market in the summer of 2021, which owner Katie May explained saw approximately a tenfold increase in visitors after relocating to the Foundry. After her storefront in the Grove sold this past summer, she said moving to City Foundry STL “felt like the next logical step.”
“This place draws such a cross section of St. Louisans, of tourists, of age groups. So it’s been really cool to see our customer base kind of expand,” May said. “[I’m] definitely happy to bring more people in who are interested . . . It’s a movement for me; the more people who shop secondhand, the better. My goal is for the need for new clothing to be reduced.”
Already seeing changes in their businesses and a blossoming, expanding community, all of the vendors are still evolving. For the holiday season, Kalbi Taco Shack is introducing an apple pie egg roll, recently developed by Wong-Shackelford. HUSTL3 CIT4 is continuing its Sip n Shop pop-ups, planning on bringing in local musicians for events in the new year. May’s Place will continue to host its popular markets, always looking to expand the local fashion community.
The Foundry itself is also still in development: The Alamo Drafthouse opens Dec. 12, as well as the Puttshack opening and a secret underground development St. Louisans will have to look out for in Spring 2023.
“We’re getting to the end of the beginning. And we’re going to continue to grow,” Smith said. “This has become a destination for seeing some of the best of St. Louis’ local small business.”
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Alexandria Darmody (she/they) was the editor-in-chief for the Journal in fall of 2022. She graduated with a degree in journalism along with an FTVP minor. She's also written for the Webster-Kirkwood Times and was involved with the university's speech and debate team.