UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. -- When Joe Edwards opened his Blueberry Hill restaurant and bar three decades ago, he threw out about two-thirds of the clientele, including neighborhood drug dealers and outlaw motorcycle gang members.
"Within a week after opening, I realized that if Blueberry Hill were to succeed, I was going to have to work on the area, too," Edwards said.
Blueberry Hill -- with Edwards' own collections of pop culture memorabilia and monthly concerts by his good friend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chuck Berry -- now draws visitors from around the world. And the surrounding six-block area that straddles St. Louis and neighboring University City has flourished into a diverse shopping, entertainment and nightlife district, in large part due to Edwards.
He now owns more than a dozen buildings in the neighborhood, including Pin-Up Bowl, an art deco-inspired bowling alley that serves up martinis; The Pageant, a concert venue that can hold an audience of about 2,000; and the Tivoli Theatre, a restored movie house.
Edwards is far from the stereotypical businessman. He's low-key -- often spotted in jeans and sneakers with his long hair tied back in a pony tail. And he didn't set out with a game plan.
But those who know him said Edwards has an ability to think big while paying attention to detail. He has an appreciation for talent and celebrity but no need to be in the spotlight himself, and a reputation for showing respect to the people around him.
As St. Louis alderwoman Lyda Krewson put it, "Every area should want a Joe Edwards."
Born in St. Louis, Edwards majored in psychology at Duke University and later served in the Army. When he returned to the St. Louis area, he and his wife, Linda, opened Blueberry Hill in 1972 with $10,500 borrowed from friends.
Despite the initial struggles, Blueberry Hill gained a following, expanded and now occupies a city block.
He's leased out several buildings for shops and restaurants across from his own newest projects. But ask him how many buildings he now owns in the neighborhood, and he needs to take out a new area map to count them.
"Twelve for sure, and that's eleven more than I ever thought, I'd have." He thinks about it a beat and realizes he's forgotten two buildings.
"So, I guess 14," he said. "Gee, that's unbelievable."