Short Cut

NO ROOM FOR OUR WORLD: After 12 years of serving as a center for the gay and lesbian community, Our World Too, the book and gift shop, closes its doors this month. Owner Bill Cordes announced the grand-closing sale in a letter to friends of the store last week. The official final day of business is scheduled for April 25, with a potluck farewell party to be held that afternoon.

Our World's closing marks the loss of yet another independent bookstore in St. Louis as Borders and Barnes & Noble superstores have expanded throughout the region. Cordes' description of the superstore chains, which he offered in a 1996 interview with the RFT after the closing of Paul's Books in University City, now carries with it a sad prescience: "They claim that there is room for the independents and for them, that they're creating new business, that they're really not taking business away from other bookstores. But the evidence is that in their wake stores are closing."

Our World, as a store that provided for a niche market, was supposedly secure from that wake, but two major setbacks afflicted the store in recent years. In 1996, the emergency sprinkler system in Magnolia's (Our World's next-door neighbor) burst and sent 102,000 gallons of water per minute into the bookstore for 45 minutes, says Cordes, causing $200,000 in damage. "The extra stress created a major health decline" for him, he adds: Last January Cordes was in a hospital "near death, unconscious and on life support."

Cordes fell behind on rent but says that with community support and a bargain sale in February, "we are less behind than we were." However, "the landlord wants us out," he says. "We lost the space. We're being forced out. The landlord says he doesn't want a bookstore in here again, ever."

Cordes says he had recruited a new owner for the store -- Jeff Balk, publisher of the zine EXP -- offering "higher rent, a deposit and several months' rent in advance" to the building's landlord, Don Yatkeman of ACY Realty: "We had found an owner for the store, and he was trying to talk to the landlord, but he refuses to return our calls. He's not interested. He wants four walls."

Yatkeman responds: "No. Nobody offered higher rent or several months' in advance." He refuses to comment further on the future of the space.

Whatever the cause of Our World's demise, the effects are greater than the loss of an outlet for gay and lesbian literature. "The store's done an awful lot for a lot of people," says Cordes. "We receive 40 hotline-type calls a day. I know people who just scream for help on the phone, or just call to know where the bars are. We took over 1,000 calls for information on PrideFest.

"We don't have the resources to go elsewhere; all the fixtures are custom-made for this building. We may be able to muster resources for the future."

For now, though, there's a going-out-of-business sale and a closing party where, Cordes promises, there'll be "free hugs for everyone." (ES)

VASHON, WITH CAMPUS, AS PROMISED: Pardon the folks who remain a little skeptical about when, where and how the new Vashon High School will be built. They've heard promises before, and so far not a single shovelful of dirt has been turned. The site most desired by the St. Louis Board of Education for the new school, the old Pruitt-Igoe site on Jefferson Avenue, has been nixed by the city. Faculty and parents are worried that the rumored $9 million cost of buying the alternate site and cleaning up the remnants of a gas station and other polluted leftovers there will force cutbacks in the plans for the new school. Word has it the site is near the intersection of Cass Avenue and Glasgow Street, less than a mile northeast of the school's current crumbling structure at 3405 Bell Ave., near Grand Avenue.

Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds says all's well and that a new plan will be announced by mid-April. (In January, then-Board of Education President Hattie Jackson said plans would be announced by the end of that month.) But Hammonds insists that this time "there are no obstacles" and that the different site will not impinge on the size or quality of the new Vashon. "We are on track," says Hammonds. "There were some delays going through the City Hall bureaucracy that couldn't be helped. It's difficult to find 25-plus acres inside the city limits. We had determined early on we wanted a school with a campus, not the way the present Vashon is. We had a criteria that was difficult to meet."

It wasn't so long ago that Vashon was scheduled to be closed, put on the endangered list by the federal judge in the desegregation case. A push to save the virtually all-African-American school came from the Save Vashon Committee, and it was taken off the list. There was confusion and misinformation about building a new Vashon, but an $11 million budget surplus wasn't deemed sufficient. So a $51 million bond issue -- with $31 million for a new Vashon -- was proposed and approved overwhelmingly by voters last year.

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