John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, MO., has had more than its fair share of highly successful and world famous graduates – Andy Taylor, founder and CEO of Enterprise Rent-a-Car; Grammy winning musician John Hartford; world-renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer’ Pulitzer prize winning author Jane Smiley and Hollywood heartthrob Jon Hamm – to name but a few. There have also been countless successful alumni who are not widely known – Joe is one.
Joe continued his education by attending and graduating from Duke University – after which he returned to St. Louis in pursuit of a career. As he looked around for the right opportunity, what continued to resonate with him was his love of music. That realization led him to career decision. He bought a bar on Delmar St. – an area of St. Louis known as The Loop. From the 1920’s through the 1950’s the area was an elegant stretch with attractions that included shopping, soda fountains, a theater, a night club, a record store and a magnificent trolley line – The Loop was bustling – then. By 1972, the year Joe bought his bar, the area was rundown – vacant store fronts, abandoned buildings and crime had replaced the once thriving sector.
As he swept up broken glass and trash on the front walk – after nights where the bar had more fights and illegal activity then it did music, Joe realized things had to change. He spread the word – no fighting, no drugs, the rowdies and undesirables were no longer welcome. Importantly, he stood firm, enforced his rules and cleaned up the bar which he had named Blueberry Hill. Business improved, but Joe knew that for his business to succeed, the neighborhood had to change.
He began what today would be called a ‘word of mouth’ campaign – speaking to other business owners, residents and the police. He spoke of what once was – and what could be again. He created a special Loop Business association and set about making changes with full community support. Over time needed service issues were addressed. The Loop began to show new life. Blueberry Hill was becoming the center point in a revitalized neighborhood – live music, cold beer, darts and good food became the standard. The bar itself continued to expand physically, building out into unoccupied adjoining store fronts.
As for Joe, he continued to act as shepherd for The Loop. His persona was quiet and understated; he was small in stature and his ponytail had become a bit of a trademark. Appearances can indeed be deceiving. When it came to doing what he felt was best for the neighborhood – and in turn the entire St. Louis area – Joe could be fierce.
One day in 1995, Joe found out that one of the true landmarks of the entire Loop – the Tivoli Theater – had been shut down. He was determined not to allow that to happen. He raised enough money in a month – including using Blueberry Hill as collateral – to purchase the building, which he set about renovating and reopening. One seemingly unassuming man – in his jeans, pony tail, Hawaiian shirts – was making a difference. His efforts didn’t stop there.
He envisioned and built The Pageant, an state of the art concert venue; The Moonrise Hotel, contemporary in design and built with sustainability at its core; Flamingo Bowl and the St. Louis Walk of Fame featuring St. Louisans who have had a national impact on the culture and heritage of our country. The area has attracted both local and national businesses. The Loop has been named by the American Planning Association as one of the “Ten Great Streets in America”. It is perhaps the most diverse area of the entire St. Louis area in terms of demographics of residents and visitors.
The Loop is once again a thriving mix of shopping, dining and entertainment – vibrant and alive. That The Loop is such an amazing area is due primarily to the efforts of one man – one fearless brand – Joe Edwards.
Fearless Brands live in their passion and bring their vision to life
What Joe Edwards has accomplished is just short of unbelievable. The impact that his vision and conviction have had on the resurgence and vitality of The Loop is unmistakable – yet in his humble manner he will defer and deflect credit and accolades to those he works with in business and in the community.
One of Joe’s greatest friends is the incomparable Chuck Berry – who still performs once each month in the ‘Duck Room’ – one of ten distinct rooms which comprise Blueberry Hill. Inside those rooms are one of the greatest collections of pop memorabilia in the world. There are also hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures featuring Joe standing with every entertainer who has played or visited the club.
The number of St. Louis greats featured on the Walk of Fame is approaching 200 and includes some names that will surprise many – including Maya Angelou, T.S. Eliot, Masters and Johnson, another of Joe’s close friends John Goodman and, of course, Chuck Berry. No other city in the country boasts a walk of fame with such a diverse list of names and accomplishments – and each star has a biography next to it.
When asked where his star will be, Edwards answers that he won’t be featured as he has not had a national impact. He is a very smart person and a shrewd businessman – but he’s wrong on that point. Cities and people across the country should – and do – look at the renovation his vision has driven…if they do so, and replicate his efforts, every community will improve.
There’s also a great deal to learn from Joe when it comes to building your fearless brand:
Live your passion – This is not a trait exclusive to Joe Edwards – quite the contrary. Every fearless brand – every success story – is driven by their passion(s). Whether or not it can be directly incorporated into your work life – you can and must maintain a connection with what motivates you – your passion should be at the center of your life.
Your vision may need adjusting – Outside factors will impact your vision – the key is to refocus your view . By example, Joe Edwards’ vision for The Loop which is more than a revitalized neighborhood. He sees a St. Louis that by 2025 will be voted the Number 1 city in the U.S. Part of that vision includes his current initiative – bringing back the trolley line to better connect St. Louis City and St. Louis County. The challenges for this project have been many, but Edwards’ project has adjusted to timing and financing challenges and as of today, construction is underway.
Very few of us can point to results of our vision which match The Loop, Blueberry Hill, The Pageant, The Peacock Loop Diner (Joe’s newest restaurant), The Tivoli or any of Joe’s other enterprises – and that’s perfectly fine. Becoming a fearless brand is not about fame or fortune. What’s important is be true to ourselves and to follow our vision – in so doing we will achieve our dream results.