Cherokee Street — Art and Business grow together

The Evoke process travels to Cherokee street to interview Francis Rodriguez, the creator of Yaquis, a prominent corner bar and pizza restaurant that provides a jubilant stream of Dixieland, Barrelhouse, Tin Pan Alley, and other Jazz and Blues music.

Regional Arts Commission St. Louis

Francis bought the property in 2012, and opened for business in 2014.

He spearheaded the renovations himself, applying a huge amount of elbow grease. This is not unusual for him, as he bought his first southside house when he was barely a year out of high school, and turned the yard into a gallery of found objects and artworks.

Francis’ former life as a schoolteacher and union shop steward informs his current role as impresario. Neighborhood and national politics are a real force affecting the success of economic development on Cherokee and citywide. According to Francis, there are approximately fifteen artist/entrepreneurs who devote huge amounts of time and energy to build a creative business community along Cherokee Street. These prime stakeholders need to engage with all levels of government, beginning with Aldermen, to ensure the steady rise of this burgeoning entertainment and retail district.

Francis Rodriguez, Creator of Yaquis

Francis sees an impediment to growth in the area: no capital. It is difficult for business owners to get loans; owners and employees, who are very often from the neighborhood, work their tails off to make ends meet. All of the investment on Cherokee comes from owner/operators, who often live above their retail storefronts: the personification of community engagement and investment. Francis envisions a great opportunity for a government or philanthropic agency to buy and renovate one of the many buildings in the area. The organic growth could be anchored by a formerly underutilized building newly filled with theater and dance rehearsal spaces, art studios, media production.

Cherokee Street St. Louis

Cherokee Street and Jefferson Avenue

People say that Cherokee began to blossom when new streetlights were installed, and streetscape improvements continue to this day, including LED lighting and new iron tree gates. Cherokee is already the epitome of cool, and with a few more years of private and public investment, it could become an even more lively center for creativity and business success.