What do artisan home goods, metaphysical tools, and custom hand-made leather have in
At first glance, says Elk & Vine owner and artist Vince Walzberg, not much. But the common thread that ties the offerings of his new shop together is empowerment: to be yourself, to make your space reflect your personality, to explore your sexuality, to dabble in the spiritual world. Elk & Vine opened at 3411 California Ave, just off Cherokee Street, in December 2022. The venture began as a small Etsy store, then a booth at the Soulard Farmers Market, and now occupies the towering historic space of the former Hat Mart.
“We offer just a little bit of everything,” Walzberg said. “We specialize in more artisan-style stuff, and try to make everything in house as much as humanly possible. The core of the business is that I want to instill a sense of wonder in anyone that walks in; whether it’s coming in and purchasing a simple air plant, to buying a coffee mug handmade by one of my friends that was a local artist, to picking up books that explore your spirituality.”
Leather work is also a backbone of the business—much of it handmade by Walzberg—from journals and flasks to kinkwear.
“I’ve taken everything that I absolutely love and just threw it into a store,” Walzberg said. “It’s about being able to explore yourself and everything this world has to offer. It’s about imbuing a sense of wonder and making it super accessible to anyone that walks in.”
Creating a welcoming atmosphere is important to Walzberg, who is a transplant to the St. Louis area. The California native has lived all over the country, from San Francisco to Georgia to Washington D.C. to Nashville. When his best friend moved to St. Louis, he decided to follow suit.
“I was able to spend about a month sleeping on her couch and exploring the city,” Walzberg said. “I quickly identified South City as what I wanted to be a part of. My friend was still finding her way in St. Louis, so while she was at work, I’d run around and find things for us to explore in helping her fall in love with the city, I absolutely fell in love with the city.”
His reasons for loving his new hometown range from the attractions to the events to the art. “St. Louis was created in the time period where so much more focus was put on a well-rounded life, so our zoo and parks and festivities are just so readily available,” Walzberg said. “All the festivities, and parades, and different pockets of culture. Really fantastic food, incredible artwork; I realized I would love the person I would become living in St. Louis.”
Cherokee Street in particular resonated with Walzberg’s love of culture and art; and when it came time to make his dream of owning a brick and mortar shop a reality, the neighborhood was a no-brainer.
“I wouldn’t personally live anywhere else in St. Louis,” he said. “I ended up working at the Fortune Teller Bar for about two years until the pandemic as a fortune teller and a bartender. I knew the Street really well, and knew the culture. I love all of the art galleries. I love the pockets of different things going on. And I love the heart of Latino culture and everything that has to offer blended beautifully with grunge and elevated art.”
Walzberg credits the pulse of the neighborhood for inspiring him to expand Elk & Vine’s offerings; his involvement in Cherokee Street helps him gauge what the community is looking for from a new business, which in turn helps guide the direction he takes the store. But he’s just as hopeful that Elk & Vine can give back too.
“One of the biggest notes I’ve taken over the years is the importance of allowing a company to grow bigger than you,” he said. “While I want to control and maintain a cohesive brand that I can completely stand behind, my goal is to become a community resource more than anything. A safe space where people can be seen exactly as they are. I want to learn from the communities around me; tell me if I am providing services wrong, tell me what you need. Tell me how I can bring visibility and accessibility to the communities I serve.”
Elk & Vine also wears the mantle of occupying a historic space. The 3411 Cherokee space was once known as Hat Mart, opened by Henry Maass in 1915. The Hat Mart grew to become a staple for shoppers in the market for hats, wedding veils, or accessories, in the days when Cherokee Street was dubbed "the Downtown of the Southside". When Walzberg bought the building, it had been sitting vacant for over a decade.
“The building was a hat shop, but all production was done inside the space,” Walzberg said. “They also offered classes…I’ve been told by people that they remembered taking sewing classes there as a kid. It’s been fun. Our goal is to honor and work with the building as much as possible in our own way.”
Embracing and extending the Hat Mart legacy means that Walzberg kept the original back rooms as a full teaching studio, where he recently launched classes in ceramics, self love, and tarot. Just like the Hat Mart before, Walzberg is hopeful Elk & Vine can serve as a resource for the community by teaching hands-on making.
That’s why Walberg’s goals for the new business are community forward: expand to feature more local artists; hire more employees to allow him time to grow as a leather artist; create the perfect blend between retail shop and community resource.
“We hope to be the hub and nexus for multiple points in the community, including helping other artists and giving them a larger platform,” he said. “We’re a queer-owned business, and being that, we are incredibly inclusive. Our goal is to offer that safe space to explore yourself.”
If that means purchasing a custom leather BDSM piece, Walzberg will sit down with you and help design something that serves your own unique body and sexuality. If it’s coming in for home goods, he’ll tell you the story of the artist that crafted each piece with care. If it’s for spiritual needs, he’ll share his metaphysical knowledge and help you get started.