Here are photographs of downtown St. Louis taken in 1988 and 1989 by Philip Schroth (1913-2001). Schroth's son David kindly shared these with me. Philip Schroth captured downtown at a period of both grit and active street life, reminding us that downtown before recent redevelopment efforts was far from dead.
Here is a view looking west down St. Charles Avenue from east of Ninth Street. The loggia of the Orpheum Theater -- then named the American -- is at left. The Roberts Brothers just completed restoration of the loggia. The view forward shows the old Statler Hotel garage in the foreground and on of the Merchandise Mart bridges in the background. Both are now gone, and St. Charles no longer runs between Ninth and Tenth streets because that is where the Renaissance Grand Hotel parking garage, completed in 2003, stands. The legendary Jimmie's restaurant was in a small building wedged between the Statler garage and Ninth Street.
Here is the A. Amitin Bookshop at 711 Washington Avenue. The store would move by the end of 1989 to 1205 Washington Avenue in the Lesser-Goldman Building. In 2003, the store closed and eventually the Lesser-Goldman Building was rehabilitated for condominiums dubbed the "Bogen." Ironically, most of the retail spaces are vacant.
Here are two shots of the 700 block of Washington, which would be demolished one year later to make way for the new entrance to the America's Center. The building at left is the lobby of the old Loew's State Theater. None of the storefronts in sight here are vacant.
These old buildings were underutilized, certainly, with upper floors vacant or used for storage. Still, the first floors offered cheap rents to small retailers whose likes are all but extinct in today's downtown.