The neighborhood known as Soulard is one of my favorite parts of St. Louis. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and it’s right near downtown, the river and Illinois. The area consists of the old farmer’s market, established way back in the 1700s, the Anheuser Busch brewery and an eclectic collection of New Orleans-style restaurants and bars.
There are some very old and magnificent churches, everything from Serbian to Russian Orthodox, and block after block of row houses that are the oldest in the city. You can tell because there are no “gangways” between the houses. They were built before a devastating fire required fire codes that separated the buildings so the flames couldn’t spread. Most of them have been rehabbed and turned into condos for the Yuppies. (Young Urban Professionals) that live there. The area also has its share of musicians and artistic types.
Each year around February the neighborhood plays host to one of the biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in the country. There’s the Mardi Gras parade on Saturday and the parade on Fat Tuesday, but also many other balls and celebrations throughout the month, including the Barkus Parade, dedicated to man’s best friend, and a separate children’s parade. On Mardi Gras Saturday, the party is literally everywhere in Soulard. People who live down there usually throw open their doors for all to enter. You can literally attend a dozen parties with complete strangers all in one block.
But if you don’t live there then the huge influx of people can make parking a nightmare. Most people go further downtown to the Landing and then take a shuttle back to the parade, but that can be easier said than done. The Landing gets pretty crowded too.
For those who have inside connections, they can park on the brewery’s parking lot or at one of the many warehouses and manufacturing plants in the area. But everyone else had better beware because the police are more than willing to tow your vehicle down to the impound lot, and that will end up costing you a lot of time and money. There were even some people who never got their cars back at all.
Last year the St. Louis Police Chief retired because of a scandal involving a local towing company. Cars in the impound lot would somehow get misplaced and end up being sold to relatives of the police department and relatives of the police chief himself. And now it seems that they had something going on at Mardi Gras as well.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, (www.stltoday.com), about 25 cars are towed in that area during a normal week throughout the year. In 2007, at Mardi Gras, 172 cars were impounded. In 2008, it was 146. One man paid $400 to get his SUV back and it wasn’t even illegally parked, but how can you prove that when the car is not where you parked it. It’s basically the police’s word against your own. One man, who was a resident of Soulard, forget to put his residence sticker in the window and it cost him $300 to get his car back. (Soulard residents are issued special stickers so they can park near their houses). He even saw them towing it and showed them his permit, but they said it was too late because they already had it hooked to the tow truck.
And to top it all off, most of the fines and collection fees that were supposed to go to the police department didn’t end up getting there. Metropolitan Towing Company, the outfit that runs the impound yard, should have sent the police department about $1500. instead they sent them $163. One of the problems was that police officers with ties to the towing company hired other off-duty officers to work closely with the tow truck drivers to enforce the traffic regulations.
This year the new police chief, Dan Isom, swears that there will not be a repeat of last year’s problems. He is planning on using only on-duty officers to enforce the laws. This is one time of the year though, that I wouldn’t want to live down in Soulard. And if you’re planning on visiting during Mardi Gras, you might want to take the shuttle.