‘This Building Has a History, and Now It Has a Future’

A patron at the Old Bus Stop Coffee Shop and Art Gallery in St. Clair browses some of the paintings on display during a Meet the Artists reception held in May. The coffee shop/gallery also doubles as an art studio for local artists on Tuesday evenings.

Every Tuesday evening in the Old Bus Stop Coffee Shop along North Commercial in St. Clair, a group of artists bring their canvases, easels, brushes, paints, pencils . . . and set up shop. They paint, draw, create, share ideas, offer inspiration and lend encouragement.

It’s an unlikely art studio, but it offers everything they need — space to work and a welcoming atmosphere.

The artists, who call themselves the Old Bus Stop Art Club, come from all over the county for these weekly sessions. They hang their finished pieces on the walls so that the coffee shop doubles as an art gallery.

Maxine Scheske, who opened the Old Bus Stop last October with Moe Reynolds, smiles as she looks around the space that for years had sat vacant and deteriorating.

Now it’s not only a place where locals and travelers can stop for coffee and a bite to eat, but it’s also a gathering place.

Scheske, an amateur artist herself, said that’s exactly what she dreamed it could be.

“The one thing artists need is a place to show their work and have it appreciated, not just sitting in the back of a closet,” said Scheske.

“I’m proud of what we have done here. All the different styles and techniques of artwork . . . ”

Many paintings, watercolor, acrylic and oil, are on display at all times. The gallery also includes photographs and crafts, such as jewelry and painted objects.

“The mediums are as varied as the artist and run from the very young to seniors,” said artist Wanda Obermark, St. Clair. “There is no talent or age limit, and everyone is welcome.”

Barb Delleart of Krakow, another of the artists in the Old Bus Stop Art Club, agreed.

“If you’ve got the itch, come in,” she remarked. “Try your hand at it. We’ll give you a brush and some paper and let you go.”

Obermark said the weekly sessions have been a great way for artists who otherwise may not have met to network.

“It has been refreshing to find out how many people in St. Clair and other areas are involved in art,” said Obermark. “It seems that a new artist appears at the coffee shop almost daily and shows interest in coming together as a group.”

Earlier this month, the group held a Meet the Artists reception and drew over 200 people throughout the day. James Strong of KLPW, 1220 AM, spoke to various artists for a segment on his show, “Living the Good Life,” that day.

It wasn’t the first time Strong had featured the Old Bus Stop on his radio show. There have been two previous roundtable discussions with Strong with some lively talk and reminiscences of places and people of interest both in the city and locally.

A Stop on Route 66

Many people may not realize it, but North Commercial in St. Clair where the Old Bus Stop is located is part of the original Route 66 highway — “the Mother Road” — made famous by a song of the same name.

The old route, which “winds from Chicago to L.A.,” offers a good way for people to see a cross section of America, and for that reason it attracts many overseas tourists.

Scheske never fully appreciated the allure of Route 66 to foreigners until she opened the Old Bus Stop Coffee Shop and Art Gallery.

Since she set out the “open” sign last October, there has been no shortage of Europeans walking through the door looking for some nostaglia.

“We’ve had people from Denmark, Austria, Australia, Wales . . . ,” recalled Scheske. “They come in and they’re in awe.

“One couple from Denmark had never had a chili dog before, so they ordered one and they took pictures of it. They took pictures of each other eating it.”

Scheske said it’s been fun sharing these slices of Americana with tourists. Many pepper her with questions about the building’s history, and she shares what she knows.

“It started in the ’40s as an auto dealership,” said Scheske, noting at one point it was a Kaiser-Frazer dealership.

“Later it was a garage, a Greyhound bus depot, a barbershop . . . ”

Scheske’s late husband was a one-time owner of the building and used it as an auto parts store. After he passed away, Maxine ran the business for a while but then sold it.

The space went on to be used as a pizza parlor, a Mexican restaurant and other cafes.

Most recently, however, the building was vacant until Scheske and Reynolds reimagined it.

“We decided to rejuvenate the old gal,” said Scheske with a smile.

Delleart said seeing a building with so much history make a comeback is exciting.

“This building has a history, and now it has a future,” she remarked.

Scheske has plans to restore the front of the historic building to its original design. She has one photo that’s hanging in the shop of what it looked like in its early days.

For more information on the Old Bus Stop, people can contact Scheske at 314-606-6136 or Obermark at 314-409-0994 and leave a message.

The Old Bus Stop Coffee Shop and Art Gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.