For 104 years, Crown Candy Kitchen has served overstuffed BLTs and thick shakes in north St. Louis, proud of its neighborhood.
But a recent satire piece on a Facebook page underscored something more than the usual jokes about the diner’s famously long lines, pounds of bacon stuffed into bread, and the chocolates lining its century-old counter: the perception of its neighborhood, and with it north St. Louis, as unsafe.
A Facebook page dedicated to mocking the city of Edwardsville posted a satire piece recently that stated: “Good news, citizens! Have you ever wanted to visit Crown Candy Kitchen in north St. Louis but were afraid of dying? Well fear no longer.” It went to allege that that the owners would be building a second location in Edwardsville. “Enjoy the authentic soda-fountain fare less the bullets and the muggings!”
News of the satire post reached owner Andy Karandzieff while on vacation, and he said it was being taken seriously by large numbers of customers. The viral post was later taken down, and an apology was posted Monday. The unnamed proprietor of “Unofficial City of Edwardsville” said he had taken down the piece when he realized that the disclaimer on his page was being ignored, and he apologized to Karandzieff.
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“The post was mean spirited in nature and disrespectful to the restaurant and to the area of north St. Louis,” the apology read. “Additionally I want to apologize to the north St. Louis community and all of you for furthering the narrative that the area as unsafe, when in actuality it is very safe.” The person wrote that he sincerely regretted the post and intends to shut down the Unofficial City of Edwardsville Facebook page permanently.
Meanwhile, Karandzieff said the post underscored an ongoing problem: the perception of St. Louis city and certain neighborhoods as inherently unsafe.
“To some people, those jokes about dodging bullets are funny, haha,” he told the Riverfront Times. “But that’s part of the problem. People read that and they believe it. They’re saying that if you go to the city, and you see black people, it might be dangerous.”
That perception has hurt business, Karandzieff said, and while its famous lines out the door on weekends show that Crown Candy is still popular, it’s not what it once was. Earlier this month, Crown Candy announced it would close an hour earlier on Fridays and Saturdays to save money.
According to the crime tracker website Crimereports.com, there have been 54 violent crimes and 127 property crimes reported in the past six months in the vicinity of the Crown Candy Kitchen.
By comparison, in the same time period, there were 109 violent crimes and 334 property crimes in the vicinity of the Gateway Arch; 27 violent crimes and 245 property crimes in and near Forest Park; 59 violent crimes and 550 property crimes in the vicinity of the St. Louis Galleria; and 73 violent crimes and 169 property crimes in the vicinity of the Bevo Mill. The website tracks reports from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
And yet perception does not always equal reality. In various studies, it has been shown that people’s perception of whether or not an area is “safe” depends on a number of factors — among them the infamous “broken windows” theory — that may or may not be actual indicators of safety. A 2005 Wayne University study found that crime rates in downtown Detroit were significantly lower than that of the U.S., the rest of Michigan and the other major metropolitan areas in Michigan — 26 percent below the national average, in fact — but the facts did nothing to dissuade Detroit’s reputation.
Indeed, the perception of the Crown Candy neighborhood as inherently dangerous persists, Karandzieff said in his interview with RFT, as he recalled meeting a woman at the airport and chatting with her. Upon hearing that he owned Crown Candy, she admitted she had never been there because her husband says they can’t go into the city because it’s too dangerous.
“People act like it’s ‘Escape From New York’” Karandzieff said. “It’s frustrating. It really is.”
He posted online, reminding people that businesses like his survive only on the whims of the customers. “We pride ourselves on hiring a staff that is very diverse and welcome everyone that walks through our doors,” he said. “But right now, our small business needs your support.”