Skip to content

Street Talk

National Register Listing Helps Drive Comeback Use For Re-purposed Buildings

A special insert to this newspaper from January of 1948 welcomed the Rice-Stix factory to Water Valley. In that section there is a full page letter from Ernest W. Stix, President of Rice-Stix. That company was a dry goods company based in St. Louis, Missouri. With the letter are two drawings, one of the just completed factory on North Central Street here in Water Valley, and one of the Rice-Stix headquarters building in St. Louis. I would have asked Betty about this section, but this was just slightly before her time at the Herald.

In 1948, Rice-Stix as a company was 87 years old and one of the largest clothing suppliers of mainly working clothes in the Unites States. Ernest Stix had taken over the family business from his father in 1916 and ran it until his death in 1955.

Rice-Stix did a major renovation of their headquarters building in 1940, while the company was in it. At the time the building was 51 years old. This was at their near peak years as a company, they had offices in 14 locations coast to coast, plus offices in Mexico, South America, Cuba, and Hawaii (not yet a state) and a dozen factories in St. Louis proper, the rest of Missouri, and in Arkansas. They had 175 traveling salesmen selling their products as well.

Ironically Rice-Stix started out not far from Water Valley. Founded in 1861 in Memphis, the company moved to St. Louis in 1879 after a yellow fever epidemic shut Memphis down (in 1878 Memphis had 47,000 people, 25,000 evacuated, 5,000 died).

The Rice-Stix headquarters building in St. Louis was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Here’s a short history of that building, it is known locally as the Merchandise Mart building.

“Built in 1889, the seven-story, 340,000-square-foot Merchandise Mart building was integral to the city’s dry goods and clothing industry for more than 100 years. The building was designed by architect Isaac Taylor in the Romanesque Revival style. The original owners, John E. Liggett and George S. Myers of Liggett and Myers Tobacco Co. built the Merchandise Mart; Rice-Stix, a wholesale dry goods company, was one of the first tenants and had filled the entire building by 1907. Rice-Stix moved out of the building in 1957 and new owners purchased the building, turning it into a merchandise mart. The building was then used as offices for small clothing manufacturers. The building then was vacant for more than 15 years. Starting in 2001 the building was rehabilitated and converted to loft apartments.”

There’s a pattern here. Buildings built for one purpose, then some adjustment with a long period of use, a decline, then years of non-use, and a listing on the National Register with a comeback use that drives an economic revival. 

 Last week was the Congress for New Urbanism conference in Savannah, Georgia. New Urbanism is a design movement which promotes sustainability by creating walkable neighborhoods containing a wide range of housing and job types. Speaking last Wednesday, National Main Street director Patrice Frey talked of economic effort in small places to the New Urbanists and used Water Valley as an example town in her presentation. Her talk was on the effort and direction that small towns take in the struggle to regain their former vitality.  Her point was that rehabbing those old buildings matters and is more important than you might think.

Leave a Comment