Joe Edwards, Owner // Blueberry Hill //

The Mayor of the Loop. The Duke of Delmar. Entrepreneur and developer Joe Edwards may have been given many nicknames by St. Louisans, but his decades-long effort transforming The Delmar Loop speaks for itself.

Edwards certainly cuts a colorful presence, as one can frequently spy him in one of his many going concerns, clad in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt with an ample blond ponytail trailing down his back. Hardly what one would expect of a major civic leader and developer, but Edwards is not cut from the same cloth as most.

From humble beginnings in 1972 opening bar and live music venue Blueberry Hill—sprayed with thousands of items of music memorabilia and carrying the distinction of featuring 209 monthly concerts by St. Louis’ own Chuck Berry in its basement Duck Room—Edwards has rescued a neighborhood that was in steep decline but now is the buzz of the town.

The newest marquee attraction, the 10-station, 2.2-mile vintage Loop Trolley electric fixed-rail line that will connect the Delmar Loop neighborhood with Forest Park and Washington University, among other stops, is set to debut in fall 2017 after being championed by Edwards for 20 years.

“I never would’ve predicted it. I never knew what I wanted to do,” Edwards said of his trajectory. “I graduated from Duke University and decided to open a place where I can run the jukebox and stuff it with rock memorabilia, and little by little it built up into a St. Louis landmark over the years.

“I learned a lot from that project, and then turned a new page in life,” he added. “I slowly realized that I could have a bigger impact on the area if I branched out and renovated some of the older buildings that were going to be torn down.”

Delmar’s Edwards Empire now encompasses a neon-lit collection of renovated historic buildings, businesses and attractions that besides Blueberry Hill includes Pin-Up Bowl bowling alley, the historic Tivoli Theatre movie theater, The Pageant concert nightclub, Peacock Loop Diner, Delmar Hall Concert Club, the nonprofit St. Louis Walk of Fame and even a hotel, the eclectic 125-room Moonrise Hotel and its Eclipse Restaurant and Rooftop Terrace Bar.

The Moonrise Hotel offers 10 St. Louis Walk of Fame Suites, a new boardroom space that can seat 12 and rooftop reception space that can accommodate 200 to 400 guests. And like many of his other venues, it is festooned with numerous display cases loaded with fascinating memorabilia.

In total, the six-block Delmar Loop now offers 140 specialty shops, including 60 restaurants, 10 galleries, 40 boutiques and 12 entertainment venues, according to Edwards. Easily walkable because it’s all set on one flat, straight boulevard, it’s a far cry from what used to be a sketchy nabe.

“It had been in great decline. Like a lot of streets in America it had decelerated rapidly in the 1960s—that’s why I could rent on the street.” Edwards said. “Now it’s one of the safest streets in the Midwest, and designated ‘One of the 10 Great Streets in America’ by the American Planning Association.”