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'Meet me' on the 'streets of St. Louis'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 6, 2012 - Local bookworms now have the opportunity to pick up a timeless piece of St. Louis literature. Virginia Publishing, a local firm founded in 1989, has reprinted limited copies of the iconic "Meet Me in St. Louis" and the popular "The Streets of St. Louis."

"Meet Me in St. Louis," written by Sally Benson in 1941, chronicles the life of the Smith family as they eagerly await the 1904 World's Fair. The novel, which was semi-autobiographical, was made into the classic film starring Judy Garland in 1944. It ran as a musical on Broadway starting in 1989.

"The Streets of St. Louis" may be less known. Printed in 1993, the book details the history of street names in St. Louis. Since its publication, it has remained one of Virginia Publishing's more popular sellers.

Local residents William and Marcella Magnan authored the book. William, who walked the streets of St. Louis during his 33 years as a postal carrier, took up researching the origins of street names during his retirement with the help of his wife. The pair put together an anthology describing the well known and the previously unknown origins of city streets.

Examples include Delmar, which is the combination of the state names "Delaware" and "Maryland." Mardel, in South City, is that name backward. Pershing Avenue in the Central West End was originally called Berlin Avenue, but was changed during World War I because of anti-German sentiment.

Many well-known roads, like Ladue, Clayton and Lindell, were named after property owners or developers. Some, like Sarah Street, were named after developer's relatives (in this case, Mr. Lindell's niece).

Both books were reprinted because of heightened demand during the holiday season.

"It was simply they've been out of print for a while," Virginia Publishing owner Jeff Fister said. "We kept getting demand for [them]. We just decided to print a limited amount, just to see how it would do before Christmas."

The technicalities of printing books aren't the hurdle they used to be. Thanks to what Fister calls "print on demand," new digital printing methods allow publishers to have the option of printing only a few hundred volumes at a time.

"And they're both paperback, so they're relatively easy to reproduce," Fister added.

Seasonal reprinting is a common practice at Virginia Publishing and is largely driven by demand. For example, Fister said the book "Spirits of St. Louis," which chronicles local ghost stories, will be reprinted around Halloween.

Virginia Publishing only prints non-fiction works about St. Louis or topics of St. Louis interest. On average, it publishes four to five new books a year and has about 40 books in circulation.

Ryan Schuessler, a journalism student at the University of Missouri Columbia, was a Beacon intern.