COLDWATER, Mich. — Bessie Thrush was heartbroken when she found out on Monday that the Blue Hat Coffee shop on Chicago Street was going to be demolished next year. She worked there for two years and said she poured her "heart and soul" into it everyday.
“This place, I mean, it’s nice,” Thrush said during an interview at the coffeeshop. “People come here, they sit down, they play games.”
She serves customers coffee and lunch while they talk at the tables and play cards and dominoes. She said it took the owners six years to build the cafe and restore the adjacent Abram C. Fiske home which was built during the Civil War.
“This house had 1-to-5 layers of wallpaper,” said owner Phillip Jewell. “We went and pulled all the wallpaper off, got down to the cracked plaster. Spent a year restoring the plaster.”
They also had to cutdown several trees, Jewell said. They used the lumber to build the tables and cabinets in the cafe. Jewell said he put a lot of love into the house, spending over $400,000 to complete the project. It was his childhood home and where his mother lived until her death in 2000. Now, he’s tearing it down.
“With Proposition 8, the property taxes went from about $4,500-$4,800 a year to $23,000 dollars a year in one year,” Jewell said. “So we tried to fight that with the local accessor.”
They lost, Jewell said. They even paid a penalty. However they’ve been paying $19,000 for the last four years. However that recently changed with an audit by the state.
“Apparently, they’re charging us the full Homestead exemption but 50 percent of the property is business,” Jewell said. “So the state is saying you need to pay the other 50 percent. So it’s like well why didn’t you determine this years ago.”
Now there’s even more taxes, he said. They built the coffeeshop to initially cover all the taxes. However they ended up spending 10 percent of the business revenue just on taxes.
“Any business person will say you can’t survive like that,” he said. “I talked to the accessor yesterday, he said ‘we want to get the maximum value of the property for taxes.’”
Now Jewell is selling the building and cafe even though it’s registered as a national historical site. His mother registered it with the federal government in the late 1960s.
City Manager Keith Baker said in a phone interview that the city has no part in the process. The building is not registered with their Historic District. He said the house and cafe is closing it’s doors due to the increase in taxes stemming from a recent audit by the state.
“The city has no interest in the property,” said Baker who considers the business to be successful. “The city is not forcing them out. The city is not requiring or suggesting that it should be demolished.”
Jewell said all is not lost. He and his wife are looking to re-open the cafe in a different location some time next year. They’re checking out spots in Fort Wayne, Detroit and elsewhere. However they, like others, will miss operating it in this area.
“This is the heart of Coldwater right here,” said Thrush. “I’d hate to see it end.”