52nd City: New Magazine Reflects its River-City Roots

Mary Delach Leonard
(MO) December 27, 2006
Section: Everyday Edition: Third Edition Page C1

Sometimes, words need to be held in your hands.

And pictures need to be printed on cool, smooth paper.

So they can be touched, as well as touch.

That's the point Andrea Avery was making as she tried to explain why the editors of 52nd City magazine seem to be bucking an online-publishing trend with their new St. Louis quarterly.

Actually, it was Avery's actions that said more than her words, as she subconsciously stacked and restacked the three issues spread before her on a table at the Hartford Coffee Co. in the South Grand neighborhood.

"I like the way books feel. You can linger over them,'' she was saying as her fingers stroked the sort-of-square magazines with their sort-of-cardboard covers.

Truth be told, this soulful little publication premièred online in January and, yes, you can still read it that way, at www.52ndcity.com. The first print edition came off the presses in April.

It's not easy to define 52nd City, which has the feel of a literary magazine but a sense of place more often found in a city magazine. The publication is themed - past subjects have included Work, Faith and Drink - but the content is an open-ended mix of personal essays, poetry and unlikely surprises, with black and white photography and illustrations.

The issue on Work, for example, included an interview with Mr. Bibbs, a professional St. Louis wrestler, and an informational piece headlined "Six Things About Barges You May Not Know." The writers are St. Louisans - past, present and unpaid - and the subject matter has a distinct river-city flavor.

The coffeehouse was a good place to discuss 52nd City, because it is one of about a dozen dining spots, bookstores and music shops around town that sell the publication. At $8 a copy, the 30- to 40-page magazine is a worthy companion to a cup of organically grown coffee.

At this point, 52nd City is more art than business, with Avery and fellow co-editors Thomas Crone and Stefene Russell running the operation from wherever they happen to meet. Frequently, that's Riley's Pub on Arsenal. They keep their records in a hefty ledger that Crone hauls around. The old-fashioned record book was provided by Avery, who found it at an estate sale and has been trying ever since to convince Crone that the time has come to transfer the numbers to a computerized spreadsheet.

"But it's not like we made out a business plan, or even thought this through,'' Avery said with a smile.

The trio of editors, who are in their mid-to-late 30s, are city residents with day jobs who find producing 52nd City challenging but energizing, Avery said. The rewards are strictly nonmonetary; the goal is always to do better next issue.

"We're learning more every time,'' she said.

The print run is about 600 copies, Crone said, and back issues are available.

The publication's name was derived from a population census that ranked St. Louis 52nd among U.S. cities when the magazine was launched. And, besides, the editors just liked the way 52nd City sounds, Crone said. He acknowledges that the number will vary by survey.

"But it's where we are right now, and we like that,'' he said.

Some people assume that the name is a negative reflection on the city, but he said that is far from the truth. The editors, in fact, are among the city's biggest unofficial boosters. For the past three years, they've given out what they call Kick Ass awards to local people and organizations that they say have quietly improved civic life in the region.

You can read all about those awards on their website, along with their blog about city happenings, and a list of places that sell 52nd City.

True, you could read the magazine online, but you really shouldn't dribble that cup of organic coffee on your laptop.