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Scene In Detroit: Mourning Coffee At Thistle

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By Amelia Kanan, CBS Detroit Blogger

No matter where I have lived across this great big country, it’s been vital to my existence to have a local, independent coffee shop where I could consistently go to order an iced coffee (unsweetened with room for cream) and sit for hours to work undisturbed.

I’m not too picky: WiFi, comfortable seating, friendly but not intrusive patrons and art on the walls is all I need. Basically, it’s a place I could refer to as “my office.”

Thistle Coffee House had become my Detroit office (I literally began to refer to it as “my office” to my friends.) For the past few months, I sat behind my computer, quietly working on my projects, observing the life that existed in Thistle. I grew from seeing it as just “another independent coffee shop in another city” into seeing it as the sanctuary it was for all kinds of people. Through these past few months I’ve seen artists working, business people having meetings, students studying, girlfriends gossiping and regulars hanging. Most of the time it was crowded but due to the number of tables and chairs as well as couches, I never had a problem finding a seat.

Sometimes, I would share a large table with a stranger, who was always friendly but still respectful of privacy. The coffee was good and they had edibles from Avalon. There were countless electrical outlets. The staff was all volunteer which meant they were extremely friendly. Prices were low. It opened early and closed late. I’ve heard Friday night open mics were always packed. Artists were lined up to be displayed on the walls. Thistle was a healthy, bustling independent business.

So … what happened?

It’s not a secret because the owner , Brenda Jarvis, posted a nice note on the door explaining everything and she also gave me her phone number to tell me the whole story. Basically, the landlord was taking advantage of Jarvis’ good credit and ability to pay her rent as well as insurance and maintenance and was demanding Jarvis pay $20,000 in his back taxes. She said he also wanted to double her rent (even though she had given up half of her space in January) and be responsible for property maintenance.

I feel it’s necessary to mention a laundry mat sits on the same property and takes up more than double the space of Thistle and yet is not responsible for those kinds of costs.

Jarvis, the faithful long-term tenant, made a counter offer Thursday which was rejected and led to Friday being Thistle’s last day.

Independent coffee shops aren’t for everyone but their existence serves as a base for lots of different kinds of people like college students, artists and local activists. Located on Second, across from The Bronx near Wayne State, Thistle served this need in Detroit.

Sure, there’s Astro, which has incredible coffee but it’s not a place where you can sit for hours and work. Hamtramck has Cafe 1923  (which I love) but that’s too far from campus for most of Thistle’s patrons. Thistle was one of those local businesses that fit perfectly in its area and served its community well. It’s my hope that they find a new home,the sooner the better.

The notice that Thistle posted on the door ended by thanking everyone for their “patronage and friendship”, adding “you will be missed”. You too, Thistle, you too.

Amelia Kanan is freelance writer/photographer and a returning native of Detroit. A graduate of Columbia College in Chicago, she wrote for an Emmy nominated sketch comedy show and pursued her passion for documentary filmmaking in Los Angeles. An incomplete list of her loves: books, human rights, improv, the smell of new shoes, talking to strangers, libraries, France, yoga, furniture, music, sociology and pushing the limits.

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