Thursday, March 1, 2007

Farewell to The Living Room

During the first week of January 2001, Kristi and I opened The Living Room Coffee Bar & Used Books here in Myrtle Beach.
We sold it March 2004 to Diane Parker, and we became patrons of The Living Room, always being proud that we started the place and it was still going, never mind losing money on it.
Recently, Diane was due to renew her lease. The property owners drew up a new lease agreement that included a 20-percent hike in her monthly rent. She couldn't do it, and we understand why -- it's not big bucks, just big hearts, that run a social, community-minded place.
The Living Room closed for good on Saturday, Feb. 24.
The following is an article written for the Neighbors section of The Sun News by Tory Tall, a regular and one of The Living Room's biggest fans going back to our first days of operation. (After Tory's column, I'll paste the article that ran on The Living Room's last day, which appeared on the front of the Money section in The Sun News.)

TORY TALL COASTAL NOTEBOOK
Coffee house will be missed; customers call it second home

It was standing room only Saturday night as folks gathered for The Living Room's last hurrah. Open mike participants were in rare form as they serenaded the crowd with everything from edgy guitar tunes to "Georgia on My Mind." Let me just say that bongos and kazoos were involved.
As evidenced by the farewell notes left by despondent customers, the establishment had become a second home for many.
"I will miss this warm, lovely Living Room - my living room away from home - where sweet people served me the best coffee on the beach and shared their life with me. Big hugs," penned Patti C.
"I'm going to miss all of you because it's good to be recognized in this busy world, and not only for being a customer," wrote an anonymous author.
Almost every note made a reference to this sense of connection.
The lyrics from the TV show, "Cheers" - "where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came" - may not have been what proprietress Diane Parker used as a business model, but it's certainly what she created.
"I wanted my staff to greet each customer with a smile because we care about people and know that our customers are the heart of our business," she said. "A small business helps develop a sense of community and that small-town feeling we all want."
She created that and so much more.
Just as Parker will miss seeing everybody, she and her fantastic, albeit eclectic, staff will be much missed. Have no doubt that you, like the man in one of your favorite parables, have made a difference to a whole lot of starfish.
The loss of the Living Room should be a cautionary tale, as it is only one of the many small businesses that have been unable to withstand market pressures in our local community. Although I appreciate the convenience of ordering from Amazon in my PJs and paying less for Steamfresh veggies at Wal-Mart, I miss independent bookstores like the Whale's Tale, locally owned restaurants like Corbin's and Little's, and record shops like Sounds Familiar, where personal attention was the standard.
I am deeply grateful for those places like New Life Natural Foods, Studio 77, Sun City Cafe and Anything Joe's, among others, that are still able to fight the good fight. Hard work isn't enough to keep places like these safe from the fate that befell the Living Room - they need your patronage.
If you want to wear your support on your bumper, order the sticker that says "Independents Do It Without Chains" from Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, N.C., and for further inspiration, read "Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses."
Contact freelance writer TORY TALL at museinc@verizon.net or 602-1194.

=====
Living Room leaving MB
By Lisa Fleisher
The Sun News
Local artist Harry Love will have to find somewhere else to hang his paintings. Musician Otis Windley will say goodbye to the grand piano and the crowds he's entertained. A local Spanish club will have to find a new place to chat.
Countless devoted customers who have come to feel at home at The Living Room Coffee Bar & Used Books are saying goodbye to the Myrtle Beach coffee shop and used bookstore, which will shut its doors today.
Patrons say there's nothing in the Myrtle Beach area quite like the place, where paintings and sketches hung for sale on the walls, shelves of used books filled the back half of the coffeehouse and mismatched, yet charming furniture filled the front.
"Oh, we're heartbroken," said Joan Rigby, of Southampton, Ontario, Canada. "We started coming for the good coffee, and then we heard the new music, and that was it."
Diane Parker, 54, took over the business three years ago from the previous owners when she moved here from Raleigh, N.C., where she was a dental hygienist.
"I always wanted to own my own business," she said. "That just was one of the things I needed to tick off in my life's journey."
Parker said she has to close because the business was getting too much for her to run and she could not find a buyer. Her three-year lease had expired, and the rent was about to jump 20 percent.
Live music will play tonight until the last patron leaves.
This year was the first in the black for the six-year-old business, Parker said.
To make the business work, she introduced live music nights, set up chairs and tables, wheeled in her own grand piano and revamped the book and menu selection. She added homemade quiches, chicken salads and brownies.
"The first day I made a mocha I was so proud," she said, leaning in to whisper her dirty little secret: she's not a coffee drinker.
She knew nothing about espresso either, but she trusted her employees to make it happen.
"Once you've been through life and gone to enough restaurants, you know customer service, you know what you like, and more, you know what you don't like," she said. "It's just a matter of knowing how to run a business."
With such a large retired population to cater to, Parker said she had to educate customers who had not grown up with a Starbucks on every corner about what a latte and a cappuccino were.
Parker tried to establish an atmosphere where customers felt they could milk their lattes for hours while relaxing in a comfy chair surfing the Net on their laptops for free.
After her husband died in 1999, Parker said she wanted to give back. She went on mission trips. Then, with The Living Room, she tried to create a community gathering place.
"It's probably been more than I expected it to be," she said. "I get e-mails from people all the time thanking me that I have this place here."
What really formed the close-knit community were the open-mike nights on Thursdays, she said, and jazz on Fridays.
Slam poets and amateur musicians would perform in a space where they said they felt safe and appreciated. Fridays would get so crowded, latecomers knew they had to bring their own chairs.
Even in the daytime, a lone guitarist or fiddler often sat on a chair outside, entertaining themselves and passersby.
Dan Allen, 38, a local electrician who taught himself violin as a teenager, would play on his lunch breaks from the nearby construction site of the Beach First center on 38th Avenue North and Robert M. Grissom Parkway.
He writes and plays his own songs. "They've never really run me off," he said, laughing.
He'll miss the fair trade coffee and the vegetarian food, he said.
This past week, customers picked through the hundreds of books still on the shelves and enjoyed their last chocolate scones.
"We like your store a lot," one customer told Parker.
"So do we," she said. "So do we."
If you go
What Last night of music
When Tonight at 6
Where The Living Room, 1285 38th Ave. N. in Plantation Point Plaza
Contact LISA FLEISHER at 626-0317 or lfleisher@thesunnews.com.

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