St. Louis: Surprising First-Time Visitors Since 1764
Some of the things new residents enjoy the most about living in St. Louis are surprisingly mundane. These subtle characteristics don’t crash over you in a tidal wave on your first visit – you’re more likely to absorb them slowly over time and then suddenly find yourself describing them glowingly to friends and family when they ask what you like about living here.
St. Louis is old.
Like, really old. Here's the thing: It's not the prairie pop-up people often expect. Despite its somewhat misleading moniker as the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis isn't really "western" at all, in either appearance or mentality. It would have been more aptly described as the place people stocked up on supplies before heading out West. Established in the 1760s, St. Louis has had 8 generations of residents around for nearly 260 years and counting. So in terms of look, feel and vibe, St. Louis is more like a Boston-meets-New Orleans than Oklahoma-meets-Nebraska.
St. Louis is big.
Way bigger than you think. There are some funny things going on around here in terms of political boundaries, metrics and stats – the first of which is that St. Louis looks like a really small city from afar or when you look it up online, not even in the top 50 for U.S. metros.
But here's the deal: The area is actually a top 20 region of nearly 3 million people – and it has much more to offer than the interwebs would have you believe. So while many plan to take it all in over a few hours or a short afternoon, they're just scratching the surface. On the plus side, while it’s refreshingly accessible for anyone coming from densely populated mega-cities or states, it's not the “outback” by any stretch of the word.
St. Louis is clean, safe and totally beautiful.
Wait, what!?! You know how they named Iceland Greenland and Greenland Iceland so as to pull off an elaborate head fake of sorts? That's not far off from the situation here. And certainly, it's not that St. Louis doesn't struggle with some troubled areas and issues. But perhaps nowhere in the country, and arguably the world, do the online and pervading media representations vary so wildly from the reality on the ground.
Because St. Louis is frequently listed among the most dangerous cities in the country (often holding spots #1 or #2 in crimes per capita), some newcomers land at the airport in a state of fight or flight. Under the impression that there are no safe options in the urban core, they head straight for far-off, distant, suburban lands – tens of miles outside the city or even the county.
However, given the chance and a little guidance, visitors are surprised to find that inner-ring suburbs and the city itself offer dozens of neighborhoods that are everything from downright sublime, idyllic and charming, to gritty, cosmopolitan and cool. And yes, as safe as anywhere.
St. Louis is NOT cheap.
Sure, if you're coming from the likes of Tribeca, Cherry Creek or Menlo Park, St. Louis is quite the bargain. But for most, it's far more expensive than they've been led to believe, no matter what the cost of living tables or averages say – especially when it comes to the rent. Where many newcomers seek to live, rents can be on par with the likes of Chicago, San Diego or even Miami. While one could argue that "cheap" isn't necessarily a “reason” to move anywhere, it's still a good idea to prepare for the reality ahead of time and plan or negotiate accordingly.
On the flip side, many are pleased to learn they're heading to a town on the rise, with ever-growing demand for housing.
St. Louis is easy to navigate.
Now, this part of St. Louis' preceding reputation is true. It's comfortable, convenient and, for all intents and purposes, a 25-minute city. If you fall in love with a sandwich on The Hill, a trail in St. Charles or a gallery in the Central West End, you can get back to enjoy them without living next door.
The days of spending hours commuting or heading out on grueling missions just to run a few errands are over. Monday through Friday, apart from accident backups, traffic on most major roads could be aptly described as mildly annoying on either end of the day – and that's by St. Louis standards (laughable by yours). If one is, say, out the door by 7:00 a.m. or leaving work after 6:00 p.m., they'll never see traffic. On weekends, there's virtually none.
So, for those looking to play at the highest professional level and still be home for dinner, St. Louis is one of the best-kept secrets the world over. And with all that the region has to offer, you will have no trouble figuring out what to do with the extra time.
St. Louis has a continental climate.
It gets cold. But if you're imagining enduring a long and brutal winter, think again. There is snow a couple of times a year, but it rarely stays on the ground for long. Even the dead of January has its share of 40-degree, sunshiney days.
It gets hot. But even the dead of July has its share of afternoons that are utterly pleasant and humidity-free. Pools can be open six months out of the year (with a heater) and, for those who enjoy variety, there are four distinct seasons.
As they say around here, if you don't like the weather, wait a day and it will change. (Seriously, we don't even know what to tell you to pack.) Oh, and that infamous Tornado Alley you've heard so much about is far to your southwest; the state of Missouri as a whole doesn't even land in the top 10 nationwide. Again, it's not that there aren't tornados and the occasional siren warning you to take cover, but, as with so many other stereotypes, the reputation here far exceeds the reality.
St. Louis offers a rich diversity of workplaces.
The question of your partner’s career options is easier to answer here than in other middle markets. Most of those have only a handful of Fortune 500 companies. By contrast, St. Louis has 10, along with some of the largest privately held companies in the world – whose names you know. There are perhaps a dozen homegrown billionaires, two unicorns, and two more well on the way – stemming from a thriving startup community and silicon prairie to match. There are VCs, fin-tech, private equity firms, hedge funds, RIAs, family offices, national law firms, 30 colleges, co-working spaces galore and more plant-science PhDs per capita than anywhere in the world. All found alongside and a population where 35 percent are actively involved in a booming not-for-profit space, with the second-highest funded United Way outside New York City.
For the creatives in the family, there's a storied fashion industry and some of the nation's largest PR, marketing, digital, architecture, design and ad agencies. Below the ice, above the hurricanes, on an inland seaport and atop more clean water than any city in the world, this region is a dream in terms of supply chain, manufacturing, transportation and logistics.
Anthony P. Bartlett is Founder of Acclimate. Acclimate helps companies attract, hire and retain top talent within the St. Louis region by connecting prospective candidates and new hires with the lifestyle, communities, preferences and affinity groups that maximize their quality of life.