Downtown Pine Bluff's newest business held an opening preview event Wednesday, and like a proud mother whose child is graduating from college, owner Mary Ann Lee beamed as she greeted dozens of guests who filed in and out of the Barraque Street establishment.
Located at 212 W. Barraque just to the west of the Jefferson County Courthouse, Indigo Blue Coffeehouse will officially open at 6:30 a.m. on Friday.
Part coffeehouse, part bookstore, Lee's business is warm and inviting with bistro tables on the sidewalk and ample seating inside. She plans to serve a variety of specialty coffees and offer a traditional coffeehouse menu, featuring items such as BLT wraps, salads and pastries.
Eventually, out back, she plans a patio where live music will be played.
Pine Bluff Alderman Steven Mays was one of the many who attended Wednesday's event. He called the opening “great for Pine Bluff. We are all working to make this city a better place.”
Lori Walker, assistant director of the Pine Bluff Department of Economic and Community Development, pointed to the historic nature of the circa 1880s building, saying that “all downtown buildings have a story to tell.”
Lee's dream of owning a downtown business began around four years ago when she bought the building.
“I had a bookshop on Bay Street, but something kept telling me that I needed to get downtown,” said Lee, who is from Detroit but moved to Pine Bluff in 2011.
“I took advantage of the city's model block program, and they gave me partial funding, but 75 percent was all me.”
The Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development Department's Model Block Program allows property owners and business owners who are enrolled to get some funding through loans for building renovations within the Pine Bluff Commercial Historic District.
In the back half of her coffeehouse, Lee has a hefty collection of books and other items for sale. She proudly pointed to the collection, then to the refurbished brick walls that hold up the building.
“These didn't look like this when I first started,” she said. “A lot of labor was involved, but we wanted to keep it as close to the original as possible. I see the potential of these old buildings downtown. A lot of people were asking me why I was investing my money in an 'old raggedy building.'
“I don't see it that way. I see Pine Bluff history. I see signs of people's lives who have been in these buildings, who were given jobs here to pay taxes. You restore an old building, and it tells you what it wants you to do. They have so much life in them. It's a labor of love.”