When COVID closed Waller’s Coffee shop, community members came to the rescueJason Waller owner of Waller Coffee Shop in Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Greater Decatur, GA — After testing positive for COVID-19, Waller’s Coffee owner Jason Waller had to close the business for a few days. One community member wondered what she could do to help, so she organized a GoFundMe page to help the coffee shop.
Decatur resident Marnie Grodzin hoped to provide some support as Waller recovered from COVID-19. On the fundraiser page, she wrote that the monetary support will not only help ease Waller’s mind, but also help keep the coffee shop in existence.
“At the bottom of my heart, I just wanted him to be able to rest, get better and be back at Waller’s because he has built a place [that does] exactly what he intended to do as far as community, great coffee providing music for people,” Grodzin said.
Waller’s Coffee opened in the Greater Decatur area in 2019 to serve coffee and baked goods, as well as host events and provide a spacious outdoor seating area.
“I’m a lover of music. I wanted to have a music venue. I wanted to serve delicious coffee. I wanted to provide for my family,” Waller said. “It all started from a pretty severe bout of depression where I just didn’t see any point in it all. I started gathering myself, getting my wits back.”
Waller said it all happened in a flash after talked to other artists and people about mental health issues, coffee and music. The result has been the community the shop has created.
“That is my new drive, is to continue to focus on the community aspect of the coffee shop and what we can offer with the outdoor space,” Waller said.
On the GoFundMe page, Grodzin wrote that “the beauty of our community is the small businesses that give us a unique flavor and experience. I think it goes without saying that Waller’s Coffee Shop is one of the businesses that so many of us have called home as one of our coffee destinations, music venues, meeting spaces, nature therapy, and more.”
She recently realized she has a neighbor who goes to Waller’s every day with his dog, gets a coffee and leaves a little extra, and that has been his routine.
“I just would hate for it to be one more loss that someone has if that’s become part of their day and brings them some solace or grounds them to the moment because it’s such a great place in the outdoors,” Grodzin said.
The fundraiser had an initial goal of $3,000 and Grodzin said that within 24 hours about $2,000 had been raised. She eventually increased the goal to $5,000 and $4,998 has been raised so far from 112 donations.
“It’s not surprising, just knowing what Waller’s means to the community,” Grodzin said of her reaction to seeing the success of the fundraiser. “I think in 24 hours we were around $2,000. All I really did was share it via Facebook in a couple of neighborhood groups and on my page, and I made one posting on Nextdoor.”
She added that there are names she recognizes as far as people who have donated, but there are others she doesn’t. She loves seeing that because it shows the wide group of people who are supporting Waller’s Coffee Shop.
Last year, Waller’s was hosting various events like open mic nights, disc golf, outer space concerts, an artist market and brunch events.
“We were doing a lot of things. A lot of community oriented events. Folks were able to rent the space out for pretty much whatever they could think of,” Waller said. “We were really busy. It’s an abrupt change to go back to the beginning of the pandemic feel.”
He added that the shop is starting the new year off with some hesitancy. The business was skyrocketing in early 2020 until the pandemic hit.
“It had been a long journey to get open anyway, and so now we’re coming up on three years open in February, and I’ve done more of it in a pandemic than not. It’s just a bizarre string of events,” Waller said. “But we’re open now. We had a local customer and friend create a GoFundMe, so I’ll be able to at least pay rent for this month and not feel as much of a sense of panic and urgency to make my next pivot to get back on track.”
Waller said he was initially embarrassed by the fundraiser and didn’t want it to be a thing after he had spent a lot of time previously raising money to keep the place open. But he eventually focused on the support from his customers.
“I’ve been not begging for money for so long. It’s like a sense of pride, I guess,” Waller said. “I swallowed it pretty quickly and started looking at who was able to be supportive. It was definitely humbling and a reminder that we’ve built something really cool here. There’s a lot of people who want to see it continue. It definitely encourages me to keep working, keep fighting for it.”
The shop closed on Dec. 29, 2021 and opened for adjusted hours and to-go orders on Jan. 4. Waller said he was lucky to have systems in place that didn’t require him to physically be at the shop for it to open.
“It wasn’t a great week, but we were still able to be open, and I was able to pay my employees. I was actually able to pay my employees for the work they missed while I was sick because of that GoFundMe,” he said. “I was definitely appreciative of that. It’s one thing for the business to take a hit, but I hate how it affects my staff as well.”
Waller said the support of customers and the community is overwhelming, and he enjoys getting to see the interactions people have with each other when they visit over a cup of coffee. He added that everyone who has invested time and energy into Waller’s Coffee is who helps keep the place open.
“I get to be behind the bar, so to speak, and just get to see it all unfold,” Waller said. “It just makes my day to say that I had a little part of building this community of people. I like to think of myself as a facilitator more than a creator. That’s what this place does. It is a helping hand at getting people to enjoy life or to process whatever is going on with them. I feel a sense of pride.”
Waller’s Coffee is located at 240 DeKalb Industrial Way in Decatur and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.
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