The neighborhood in St. Louis where I grew up has been transformed. By 2013 there were 70,000 Bosnian immigrants living in the area. This was the largest concentration of Bosnians outside Europe.
While there are almost 2 million Hispanics in Chicago, there aren’t too many in St. Louis. Why did Hispanics migrate to much colder Chicago instead of St. Louis? I don’t know. Where Ruth and I live now, there are lots of Hispanics but also a large number of Asians. Asians, it seems, choose the West Coast in far greater numbers than the American Midwest.
St. Louis has always been a city of immigrants. Between 1763 and the Louisiana Purchase, it was basically French. Streets in my old neighborhood have names like Laclede and Chouteau. Germans and the Irish arrived in large numbers in the 19th century. My father was the former and my mother the latter. Most of the Italians, who arrived in large numbers a bit later, lived on The Hill. Three of my best high school friends were Italian, Austrian, and Polish.
Why did Bosnians choose to come and settle in my old neighborhood? When Yugoslavia splintered in the 1990s, Bosnian refugees fled civil war. Many came to St. Louis and lived near the intersection of Grand and Gravois. This part of town became known as Little Bosnia. When I was growing up, Gravois was not pronounced in the French way. It was Gra-voy Street to me, the first syllable pronounced like the GRA in grass. Early Bosnian settlers in the 1990s built smokehouses in their St. Louis backyards to spit-roast whole lambs. This alarmed some locals.
Bosnians proved industrious. The area they choose to live in centered around Bevo Mill, a long-time St. Louis restaurant. The neighborhood improved. Bosnian shops and restaurants sprang up. Bosnians started many successful businesses. Zlatno Zito, Taft, and Iriskic Brothers are on Gravois. The 1st two are restaurants and the 3rd is a grocery store. Bosnians sent their kids to universities. Their community had less unemployment than others and has already somewhat splintered. Many of the mosques, restaurants, and Bosnians are in other places in the St. Louis area.
When I ask St. Louisans about Bosnians, most of them tell me that they’ve dined in their restaurants. Bevo Mill has recently reopened, but I don’t know its cuisine. Grbic serves Bosnian food, is well-liked, and is still on Keokuk Street in the old neighborhood.
But Bosnians have begun to scatter. Berix, a Bosnian restaurant, is on Lemay Ferry Road relatively far from Little Bosnia. So is the Bosnian Islamic Center of St. Louis. Many Bosnians would like to see more Syrians settle here.
I took the photo below in a store window on Grand Avenue near where I once lived.