July 10, 2013

Saving Jittery Joe's Roasting Co.

Athens Rising

Photo Credit: Blake Aued

Local art at Jittery Joe's Roasting Co.

Way back before Christmas, Flagpole broke the news to y’all that Walmart had decided not to open a store on the Armstrong & Dobbs property to be developed by Selig Enterprises. Our cries had been heard, the protest songs listened to and bumper stickers noted, but while we all celebrated the victory over the big box, many of us forgot that our local coffee-maker was on the chopping block.  Selig plans to demolish the Jittery Joe’s Roasting Co. building.  

The structure that houses the roaster was built sometime between 1926 and 1950 as a distributing warehouse for Budweiser. Jittery Joe’s has been there for the past 13 years.  

Not only is the building historic, but it's also full of local artwork.  The extensive and intricate iron detailing on the porch was made for Jittery Joe’s by local artist Beverly Babb. (You can see some of her latest work in the new outside seating area at Clocked.) The building has custom shutters and doors, stained glass windows and much more.  Every time I go there, I find some new art that I’ve never seen.  

Professor Jack Crowley and his team of graduate students have a plan to save this iconic building. The development of the downtown master plan seems to have come at the perfect time, and Crowley seems to understand the importance of the Jittery Joe’s building (perhaps because he lives in Athens rather than Atlanta). Crowley explained in a presentation to People for a Better Athens on June 18 that he would like to see the roaster moved to the other side of East Broad Street on the corner of Hickory Street. Currently, a stormwater retention pond for the Multimodal Center is located there, but Crowley wants the pond turned into a park with the relocated roaster there.  

Jittery Joe’s has been scouting out new locations. If the roaster moves, it wouldn't be the first time. When Jittery Joe’s first opened in 1994, the roaster was located downtown on Washington Street, where Max currently is.  

Company founder Bob Googe recently dropped his opposition to the Selig project, saying developers convinced him the building couldn't be saved if it moves forward, and he favors the project as a whole.

According to head roaster Charlie Mustard, Jittery Joe’s is looking at several locations around town, for a move in the upcoming months. They would like to stay as close to the heart of downtown as possible, because not only is their customer base largely centered downtown, they are culturally linked with downtown.

The idea of moving the structure is not new. When Jittery Joe’s first found out they would need to relocate, they thought about purchasing the building—they currently lease it—and moving it to a new location. However, after having engineers look at the building, they were told that that interior structure would not survive a move—numerous interior structural elements would have to be added to make the building moveable and not fall apart mid-move, Mustard said.  

If the building can be stabilized enough to be moved and Crowley’s plan to create a park across the street with the building in it comes to fruition, Mustard said Jittery Joe’s may very well be interested in moving back into the building. But they need to know whether or not this plan will actually happen in the very near future, as they must sign a lease soon.  

So, there are three potential options for the building: It is moved across the street and Jittery Joe’s moves back in; it is moved across the street and used for another purpose; or it is demolished.  

Regardless of the outcome, the vast majority of the artwork in the building is removable, and Mustard plans to take it all when they relocate.  

While I think most of us would like to see Jittery Joe’s remain in the building and moved into a park across the street, it is possible that the timing might not work out.  If that happens, the structure being adapted to another use would be a great alternative—that way it would remain a part of the architectural and cultural history of Athens. While it may not look like much, it is already a part of our history and should not be demolished and forgotten.