Greetings from the commons.

The other day, the good people at STL-Style posted the above image on their Facebook page. It’s my “Greetings from Chesterfield” postcard that I designed and first printed in 2006 for my then-business, Big Small Town Designs. STL-Style’s post got 153 likes, and most of those were from people I’d never met. It felt pretty good that my old work was still affecting people, even if just to give them a small chuckle at the subject of suburban sprawl. This, by the way, was by far the best-selling postcard that Big Small Town published.

I’m starting this journal to talk about my work, my process, and my influences to anyone who is interested, so this piece seemed like a good place to start. My work is at times: graphic design, songwriting, music production, writing, or who knows what else. Anyway, back to the subject at hand:

For folks who aren’t from the St. Louis area, Chesterfield is a suburban city of nearly 50,000 people located about 25 miles west of the Arch. It is mostly white, reasonably wealthy, and growing rapidly. One of the specific results of this rapid growth became the subject of my humorous postcard: Chesterfield Commons: one of the largest contiguous shopping centers in the country. Common…or MOST EXCITING?

According to its website:

Welcome to what just may be, at over 2 million square feet, the largest, most exciting outdoor shopping center in America. Along the high-tech corridor of U.S. Highway 40/Interstate 64, just 25 minutes west of downtown St. Louis, you’ll find Chesterfield, MO, a young and vibrant city where beautiful neighborhoods, gleaming office buildings, bustling shopping malls and rustic horse farms all coexist in one setting. A place where history, tradition and progress have come together as one.

It is here that THF has built Chesterfield Commons, bringing together an amazing community of America’s top retailers. Walmart Supercenter, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, The Home Depot, Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, Sam’s Club and Target, along with every conceivable fast food, restaurant and retail chain. Plus, there’s a giant megaplex cinema, Executive Office Suites and much, much more. Biking and nature trails. Tens of thousands of annuals planted each year. Incredible landscaping. High visibility, easy access and constant daily traffic is all waiting for you.

The part about “tens of thousands of annuals planted each year” kinda cracks me up. It must be a lush garden! I wonder what percentage of the 2 million square feet is paved?

And “every conceivable fast food”. Which is true.

The other novel aspect of this shopping center is that its future site was completely submerged by the waters of the Missouri River in the Flood of 1993:

Gumbo Flats, Flood of 1993

At the time, the area was still largely known by its older name, the “Gumbo Flats”. After the flood waters receded, a larger levee was built, a TIF was passed, and this flood plain became a development juggernaut.

One Hour Photo
Ye Olde Walgreens One Hour Photo

Regarding the photo itself, it’s actually pretty old. I went back and found the original print, and apparently it was developed on November 29, 2000, back when the shopping center was relatively young. Notice the Pontiac Sunfire, for example (which still reads as a contemporary car to me). I was out and about with a point-and-shoot, looking for photos to take and use in a graphic design class at Webster University. A few years later, I plopped some type on it, and, voila, a postcard was born! And one that would turn out to be the most popular I would end up making.

As for the humor, it’s pretty obvious. “The most exciting outdoor shopping center in America” is as common as can be. See Martin Parr’s Boring Postcards USA for a similar, but unintended, type of sad-humor. Why make a postcard of something so normal, so ubiquitous? I had considered making other versions of the card for different metro areas, because I was pretty sure you could replace the word “Chesterfield” with countless other sprawl cities from around the country and no one would notice the difference: Overland Park? Plano? Germantown? Maple Grove? Plainfield? PLAIN-field!?

Lastly, although I retired from Big Small Town Designs in 2011, this card and certain others are still available to buy in person at the STL-Style House at 3159 Cherokee St. in St. Louis.


2 responses to Greetings from the commons.

  1. Julie W says:

    Personally,my favorite Big Small Town card was the photo with mostaciolli, a dinner roll, and roast beef on a plate….And then when you opened it up, it read, “Somebody’s getting married!” It sums up a lot of St. Louis right there. 🙂


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