Where's Your CREW

November 19, 2019
Written by: CREW-St. Louis

​Chief Executive Bear Inspires Crowd at 4th Annual Signature Event

Nearly 150 members and guests gathered at the newly opened Hotel St. Louis for the chapter’s Fourth Annual Signature Event on Oct. 10. The evening lived up to its billing as a key event for the chapter, capped off by an inspirational message from Maxine Clark, an innovative retail leader turned philanthropist and commercial real estate developer.
It was fitting to hold the affair at Hotel St. Louis, the first Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel in our region. Restoration St. Louis rescued the former Union Trust building at 705 Olive St. Designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan, the 1893 building had been vacant for a couple years before Amy and Amrit Gill brought it back to its original glory. It’s just another testament to why Amy Gill was the first recipient of the CREW-St. Louis Woman of Influence Award in 2016.
The evening started with the First Annual Sponsor Appreciation Event at Form Sky Bar, which sits atop the hotel with views of the downtown skyline. Sponsors were welcomed with eclectic cocktails, delicious hors d’oeuvres and a signed copy of Maxine Clark’s book, The Bear Necessities of Business. More than 30 sponsors attended the special reception as CREW-St. Louis recognized their generosity.
“It was a wonderful celebration,” says Angie Drumm, Principal with Carmody MacDonald and Sponsorship Chair. “Thanks to our sponsors’ support, CREW-St. Louis raised a record amount. Most importantly, these funds allowed us to hold 42 events and add more than 50 new members.”
Ann Schmelzle with Balke Brown Transwestern concurs. “The sponsor appreciation was well-received and much appreciated. What a way to network, celebrate and kick off a fantastic evening.”
That it was.
The crowd was wooed by the ornate reception area where they networked over cocktails and scrumptious appetizers. Dinner was then served inside the hotel’s opulent ballroom. The chef-crafted dinner choices of chicken chardonnay, herb crusted salmon or portobello mushroom matched the ballroom’s magnificent setting.
Chapter President Michelle Yates, Director of Marketing for the Lawrence Group, kicked off the evening by thanking CREW-St. Louis’ generous sponsors as well as all in attendance. She also introduced the evening’s main event – keynote speaker Maxine Clark.
Maxine did not disappoint. She stirred the crowd with sustenance for the mind and soul. She told her riveting story of how she became one of the nation’s most prominent and innovative retailers as the Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
Maxine’s retail journey started out more than four decades ago when she began her retail career as an intern at the former May Department Stores. While she worked in the real estate department, she quickly found that retail was more than bricks and mortar. Early in her career, Stanley Goodman, then CEO of the May Department Stores said, “Retailing is entertainment and the store is a stage and when the customer has fun, they spend more money.” She was hooked on finding that magic to draw customers into a retail setting and keeping them there as they shopped.
She stayed with May, eventually accepting key assignments during her tenure, including leading Payless Shoe Source and Venture.
But she began to venture out on her own in 1996, shortly after Federated acquired May. Maxine remembered the words of Goodman and held conversations with children to find a way to connect and bring the stage to their world. Inspiration came from a neighbor’s child and Build-A-Bear followed in 1997.
Today there are more than 400 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores worldwide. Cumulative sales have exceeded $5 billion and more than 140 million stuffed animals have been sold world-wide.
In June 2013, Clark stepped down from her Chief Executive Bear role. This followed a chance meeting with an elementary student in Jennings. While she wasn’t sure how to address the class, the student inspired her to use her talents for other passions and purposes. She decided to apply her entrepreneurial skills to improve K-12 public education.
She also encourages and invests in women and minority entrepreneurs such as Goldie Blox, myEDmatch.com, Wondermento and St. Frank.
And she is taking on an ambitious real estate development project called the Delmar Devine. The project will convert 177,000 square feet of the former St. Luke’s hospital vacant since 2014 into office space. She views this as an incubator for social service organizations, similar to how Cortex brought together the tech industry. Washington University is a partner in the development, offering the tools, resources and direction to help tenants move forward, Maxine noted.
Another 143,000 feet will contain 160 apartments, smaller in size to attract younger tenants who want urban living but are just starting their careers. Ground floor retail space could house local businesses, restaurants and, perhaps, a gym and day care facility. Plans also call for an auditorium and an adjacent community job training center.
Located on the north side of Delmar between Clara and Belt avenues, the project also is designed to jump-start development in the neighborhood between the Delmar Loop and the Central West End. Clayco Construction is a strategic partner with Clark in the development.
Members were inspired by Clark’s story and message.
“Maxine brought a great perspective, energy and passion for the region,” says Erin Valentine, Director of Building Markets at McCarthy Building Companies. “Her speech really made me reflect on what we can all be doing to be cheerleaders and advocates for our community.”
“I enjoyed Maxine Clark's story especially how one ‘off the cuff’ comment made by a child, changed the trajectory of Maxine's life and allowed Build-A-Bear to be born,” says Nancy Petersen, Vice President, Relationship Manager at Enterprise Bank & Trust.
“She also is inspiring. She has done all the right things in developing and running a business and now she is giving back within the community,” Nancy adds. 
And if you haven’t picked up a copy of Maxine’s book, The Bear Necessities of Business, Nancy highly recommends doing so. “Her book allows us to dream by asking the question: What type of business would you start today, if you had unlimited resources?” 
As Ann Schmelzle summarizes, “The event was beautiful, from the venue to the well-spoken Maxine Clark who encouraged us all to stay the course with our dreams and passion for a meaningful and prosperous business to the delicious food and wonderful service of Hotel St Louis.”

Photo Album: Signature Event

Event Information