Perk City: A small business emerges from darkness

Nick Della VolpeFood, Inside 640

Perk City, the coffee shop on Magnolia Avenue, has re-opened after being shuttered by the pandemic. Owner Sherene Jacobs, of nearby Park City, had resumed serving to-go coffee curbside for the past few weeks, but plans to open up interior seating for her customers on Monday (6/1).

This small business tells a tale of courage and tenacity, and good old-fashioned neighborhood spirit. Sherene started it by buying and restoring a derelict tavern building located on the corner of Magnolia and North Beaman Street, next to Chilhowee Park. Lots of sweat equity went into its Fall 2019 opening – some two years’ worth. Earlier story here.

Its menu of coffees and home-baked goodies expanded into sandwiches, soups and other lunch offerings by year’s end. Regulars would stop by for their morning or evening jolt, or a quick mid-day meal, also to take advantage of its casual meeting atmosphere. It’s a hometown operation.

Then the COVID virus hit. Closing the doors, with no cash flowing in, is particularly hard for small businesses, let alone one this new. Property costs, loans and utilities continue – they are no respecter of government edicts, startup budgets, or the life of the Wuhan virus.

Meantime, Sherene has been striving to protect her customers as area businesses reopen. She held back, saying she did not want anyone to get sick by premature operations. The shutdown gave her a chance to do some additional interior work on the premises, but mostly, it caused this high-energy lady to work on other tasks – like sewing and donating cloth masks for healthcare workers and customers who lacked one. No charge. She is that kind of gal.

Sometimes neighbors notice. One fellow recently stopped outside her coffee house while riding his bicycle. When Sherene stepped outside to get his order – turns out he had none, at least for now. He said had been meaning to stop before but had been busy. He thanked Sherene for pioneering a business in his neighborhood. Then he handed her a twenty to put toward its survival and continuance. He’d said he will be back.

Fellow Knoxvillians, we need to patronize all our small businesses as they reopen. Our patronage is the key to their survival. And, in a real way, ours.

Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer, a gardener and a former member of Knoxville City Council.

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