If the St. James was swanky

Published 6:08pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I miss Jean T. Martin. Each Thursday when she would come into the newsroom to deliver her column and stories for the Life&Styles section, she would come with floppy discs — ancient artifacts that had her columns stored on them. She would also be toting a fat manila envelope full of pictures in one hand as she moved along with a cane in the other. She brought pictures of the first car in Selma cruising down Broad Street, old hotels downtown and many other artifacts more ancient than her floppy discs.

I miss having a historian around, with a sassy yet sweet demeanor, to tell a Selma newbie everything they need to know about a city rich with history.

As I interviewed someone about the St. James Hotel and its impact on downtown, we sat in the hotel’s courtyard. I couldn’t help but think about how Jean would describe it, if it were polished up to what it could be.

The St. James Hotel has been the topic of many articles lately since the management company Gourmet Services decided they would bounce early from their five-year contract. They were supposed to invest hundreds of thousands each year into the hotel, making improvements. It sure doesn’t look like they did.

I wish the St. James Hotel were a place in Selma I fell in love with and came to cherish so that I could write columns about fond memories there just like Jean wrote about places like the Harmony Club. But since my arrival, the St. James has really only been a banquet location and topic of controversy.

Many people speak of its potential and great location — and I can totally see it. Sitting in the courtyard I imagined Oak Street Café in New Orleans where breakfast is something everyone in town looks forward to on Saturday morning and little man plays jazz tunes on a piano while puffing his cigarette. If the St. James served Brie cheese French toast with a blueberry-infused maple syrup, believe me when I say I would be their most loyal customer.

Whether a new company will take over, the city will run the place with eager volunteers or a university will start up a new hospitality management program there for students — the hotel needs new life, new ideas and a buzz much better than the martinis that were served there during the Gourmet Services reign (the olives had seeds, people.)

Jean wrote columns that all longed for the days of the past but celebrated the little moments she experienced in the present. Her images of white picket fences and bustling train stations made me wish I lived in Selma long ago.

I pray one day I can write columns and make a young, naïve journalist wish they were at the St. James Hotel in 2013.

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