Some of my best ideas come to me in coffee shops. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s the change of scenery, although I’ve had those best ideas in coffee shops I know well. Maybe it’s the combination of the familiar and the strange—the constant interruptions of people coming and going. Once while I was writing a story in a coffee shop, a story that wasn’t going that well and that I was only writing down to get it out of my head, a woman asked me, “Are you journaling?” I said yes and we talked for a minute and then she got her latte and left. Then as I went back to writing the story took a weird turn and became so much better. Don’t knock the person from Porlock, but that’s another story. Or maybe it’s because I’ve had some good ideas in coffee shops and those have just happened to foster other good ideas.
I also prefer local coffee shops. They all have some features in common but every one is unique, too—unlike those chain places that you find everywhere. So I’m sad that one of my favorite coffee shops, JJ’s Market, closed December 22nd, 2018.
JJ’s has been around since 1971—almost as long as I’ve been alive. When the Noshville Delicatessen next door, a more recent arrival, closed and a developer wanted to raze the block the owner of JJ’s went to court. His lease, after all, was good through 2022. That was a few years ago, but when I talked to the owner he said a lot of circumstances meant he had to close. The leaky roof would cost $100,000 to fix, and JJ’s was the last tenant on a block in an area where new buildings, and prices, are going up. The midtown area of Nashville used to be a funky place with bars and coffee shops, but thanks to gentrification it’s rapidly getting defunked. In spite of JJ’s being just a block away from a major chain coffee shop, not to mention a chain that specializes in pastries and, just one block over, a chain bagel place, it remained popular and crowded. Some mornings there I listened in on business meetings with four people in suits, and it tickled me to think high-powered deals were being made at JJ’s funky, wobbly tables and overstuffed sofas. The leaky roof with exposed ductwork and the bare brick walls added to the charm. Once I overheard a musician talking to an agent—and being around creative people might be another reason I get good ideas in coffee shops. People left books lying on tables or in the bookcase by the register, where there was also a selection of board games.
JJ’s was more than just a coffee shop. You could even say it was world famous, included in Ariel Rubinstein’s Atlas Of Cafes. The front section had coolers with a wide selection of craft beers. You could also get some local brews on tap, or fill a growler to go. They had a selection of European chocolates, magazines, Japanese snack foods, and ceramic mugs made by a local artist. And there’s something really funny about a place with its own specialty coffees called “Studying Nietzsche” and “James Brown”.
Companies like WeWork are creating workspaces for people who want to get away from the traditional office, and hotels are redesigning their lobbies to be community hangouts, but JJ’s created a community space decades before just by being what the community wanted.
It’s a sad but fitting epitaph for a coffee shop that was part of the community, was even a community unto itself, for almost half a century.
Hail and farewell, JJ’s Market.