Cafe del Sol in brighter times

Five years ago, as Frank & Sally Walker worked to open their new coffee shop, Cafe del Sol, I asked them a question.

“What,” I wondered, “motivates you to open a ‘gourmet’ coffee shop in a county where coffee is measured by thickness, not taste?”

“We’re hoping to change that,” Sally said.

For a while, they did. Floyd — in 2005 — had four coffee shops. Besides Cafe del Sol, you could find premium java at Over the Moon, Blackwater Loft and Mama Lazzardos.

Now, with Cafe del Sol closed and speculation increasing over whether or not it will ever reopen, Blackwater Loft remains the only game in town when it comes to the new breed of coffee shops. Most Floyd Countians still grab their java to go at the express markets or the drive-through at Hardees.

Cafe del Sol’s problems are a notable glitch in the program to transform a sleepy, rural town into a trendy stop for tourists and upscale locals. The locked doors there join empty spaces at various other locations around town and some of those who predicted failure shake their heads and say “I told you so.”

I don’t agree that a gourmet coffee shop in Floyd was “doomed to fail” any more than I felt other businesses that have tried and failed were lost causes. Certainly, the worst winter of the new century, combined with the worst economic depression since early in the last century, hasn’t helped Floyd’s efforts to reinvent itself. As one who has lost a good chunk of his nest egg on two failed businesses in Floyd over the last five years, I can relate to the problems faced by the Walkers and other business owners.

The new economic realities facing Floyd come at a crucial time for the area. Cuts in state funding threaten the future of The Jacksonville Center and county schools. High unemployment and the recession cut into tourism and discretionary income that is vital to the county’s economy. County officials, desperate for cash, jumped at a dubious opportunity from questionable promoters with the hope that it might produce income from a proposed data center but the deal fell through and left the county with thousands of dollars worth of legal bills and red faces.

While there is little question that Floyd must evolve there is room to wonder if the area should be allowed to evolve on its own or forced to do so under a manufactured vision of what the town and county should be. I’m not a smart enough businessman or promoter to answer that question so I leave it to others.

Some envision Floyd as an artistic and cultural center. We have some homegrown artists and a number have migrated here over the years but few make a real living from their art. The Jacksonville Center’s arts-based “business incubator” never reached its potential and the resident school dormitory became an interim doctor’s office.

Music has a long tradition here .  The Floyd Country Store’s Friday Night Jamboree and County Records — both major venues on The Crooked Road — are town centerpieces for the celebration of Bluegrass and traditional mountain music. FloydFest also provides the area with a national stage for music.

But few musicians, like artists, make a real living from their music. Most work at day jobs to support their families and their music.

Floyd remains, for the most part, a poor, rural county inhabited largely by people with modest incomes and even more modest needs. The influx of retiring yuppies over the past few years has bloated the demographics somewhat but nowhere near enough to turn the area into the arts and entertainment mecca that some envision. A downturn in tourism driven by the economy hasn’t helped.

But Floyd is not Middleburg. It’s a diverse community that is unique in so many ways.

Bluegrass remains the music of choice, pickups still outnumber SUVs and Lee and Dickies work clothes adorn more residents than designer “country fashions.”

A group is currently working on “defining Floyd” for marketing and promotion purposes. Past efforts have been haphazard at best because different people have different ideas on what Floyd can, or should, be. Perhaps this group can succeed where others have failed.

Some good people have put a lot of time, money and effort into making Floyd work: Bill & Joanne Bell at Bell Gallery & Garden and Woody & Jackie Crenshaw at The Floyd Country Store along with others.

Long-time businesses like Farmers Supply and Slaughters Supermarket continue as anchor businesses to the community.

New businesses have opened in this tough economy: Mickey G’s on Rte. 8 and a new eatery soon in the old “Over the Moon” location along with Mike Mitchell’s new music store.

Former Harvest Moon co-owner Tom Ryan is putting the finishing touches on The Republic of Floyd Emporium, a retail center for his offbeat view of the area.

Spring — assuming the snow from this winter of extremes ever actually melts — will bring new activity around the Community Market on South Locust Street.

Yet Floyd’s future is clouded by competing visions of what the town and county should become. Strong wills have, and will continue to, clash over whose vision takes precedence.

Level-headed professionals in our county government too often find their efforts stymied by myopia from elected officials with antiquated dreams of an industrial base that will never be part of Floyd County’s future.

A number of businesses that existed in Floyd when we moved here in 2004 are gone: including Lemons Jewelry, Mama Lazzardos, Blue Ridge Creative, Blue Nova Computing and Harris & Baker Furniture. Pine Tavern and The Floyd Country Store changed owners.

New businesses also opened: Bell Gallery & Garden, Cafe del Sol, El Charro, Nancy’s Candy and others.

Floyd continues to change, to evolve and, perhaps, to realize its potential. Those who put their money, resources and future on the line to open a new business or expand an existing ones should be applauded for having the courage to do so.

Some call it evolution.

Others revolution.

And still others devolution.

Only time will determine who — if anyone — is right.

I think Floyd’s future can — and should — be bright one. We may have more hard times ahead before realizing that future but the desire and effort is there.

Let’s hope — and work for — the best.

(UPDATE: Cafe del Sol is for sale. A classified listing in the Charlotte Business Journal has the establishment on the market for an asking price of $50,000.  According to the ad, the “owners wish to have more time for family and for other ventures.”)

(Updated on March 1 to add some additional information and thoughts.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]