Today is the end of an era. A neighborhood era, and one of my personal eras too.
The day of the sale of the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse has come.
I remember when I met Robert and Elizabeth, sitting outside the empty shell of what we had started calling "the nacho cheese and stale donut place" which inhabited the building before they bought it. The True Brew that had been there a few years before had found new owners after it had closed and those owners had quickly devolved it to the point where the owners simply taped a donut box to the window to show the type of products they carried.
Needless to say, I had stopped going.
When I walked by and Robert said hello I stopped to talk and started a conversation with the two of them that has continued for over 10 years now. They explained patiently what they had probably explained at least 20 times that night-that they had bought the building and wanted to know what the neighbors wanted to put in there. (long story made short, neighbors overwhelmingly wanted a good coffeehouse.)
I bonded quickly with Robert over 3rd places and social cohesion strategies and politics then later with Elizabeth over books and people watching and history. Their love of their adopted city was profound, anyone could see that. They had traveled widely and experienced much and loved to share what they knew. Those things became the next bonding.
When it opened, I was there that day, ordering Morrocan mint tea which had been recommended by Elizabeth. I knew this was a special place. I did not know that day however, how much it would come to define my neighborhood and my personal circle.
The evolution of my taste for good coffee and tea began that first day and continues with the baristas to this day. Baristas like Jordan and Lawrence (among many others) who also defined the place in their time with their wit and knowledge. Now, I have Lee and Eric to continue the tradition with more names to come...
I actually did some work for the place in the early days, doing data entry for Elizabeth and I really enjoyed it. Would have loved to have stayed on doing it, but my full-time job began to take over and so I became only a customer and a friend.
I made many friends through the place and had a larger number of friendly interactions with neighbors. I watched some drama unfold and saw some losses be absorbed by people while there. Katrina was a bad milestone for all of us here, but for people in MidCity we had a respite and a place to gather your emotions or supplies or people to go back and finish the cleaning. I am sure the entire downtown owes Fair Grinds thanks for recovery. When you can find support nearby, you move more quickly to a positive result.
Over the years, I worried about my friends who were working every available minute and using all of their resources to build their business. I worried about their health and the future of a social justice business model in a corporate world. I still worry, but am glad to see the next owners were attracted to the mission rather than just the profit part of the business. That tells me (and hopefully tells Robert and Elizabeth) that their work will continue.
The number of neighborhood projects, business ideas, national and international movements that have been directly supported there cannot be counted. It's too lengthy. The number of people who made a true connection can also not be counted. It multiplied past everyday numbers years ago..
I can remember so many moments now that I have shared because of that first one that evening 10 years ago when I stopped to talk to 2 people on a bench. I thank them for all of them and look forward to sharing new ones with them as fellow customers and friends.
Thank you Robert and Elizabeth.