News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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September 10, 2013

Shutters go down on Coffee Grounds

Building owner seeks new tenant to maintain downtown feel for Wabash Avenue

TERRE HAUTE — Coffee Grounds, a poplar downtown Terre Haute coffee shop for 20 years, has been closed for more than a week, sparking the building’s owner to say he is actively seeking a replacement.

The business is owned by Michelle and Gene Barnett, who purchased the business last year from former owner Pete Wilson. It is housed in a building at 423 Wabash Ave., owned by attorney Michael Ellis.

A sign on the business reads: “Sorry for inconvenience will re-open soon!”

Ellis said he put up the sign “because there is going to be a coffee shop there, as far as I am concerned. If [the current owners] don’t want to do it, somebody else will want to do it. I have had inquires already. On this end of Main Street [Wabash Avenue], we need a coffee shop,” he said.

“It has been a great coffee shop for years, and I intend on seeing that it remains a coffee shop to the best of my ability,” Ellis said.

“I have had a strong interest in downtown for a number of years. In my opinion, downtown requires retail, restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques. I am not going to sit by and watch that close and go by the way side,” Ellis said.

Contacted Monday, business owner Michelle Barnett said, “We are in the process of selling it, that’s all I am saying.” Barnett declined further comment.

Ellis said he filed a small claims lawsuit in August seeking rent. Ellis said he reached an agreement to waive about $1,000 in late fees in return for rent. Ellis said August and September rent has been paid.

“I did that, because I wanted them to succeed, but then they started closing, with one day they are here and the next they are not,” Ellis said. The business was not open last week.

Mark Smith, a former Terre Haute resident who now lives in Carmel, walked toward the business Monday morning and stopped when he read the sign on the door.

Smith said he was visiting his father, who is in Union Hospital.

“I am visiting from out of town. I knew that there was a coffee shop here. I am just looking to get a good cup of coffee,” Smith said. “I am all about mom and pops.”

Smith said he left Terre Haute in 1993 but said the site then had a coffee shop. Original owner George Shumay started the business at the location in 1993. “This is disappointing, but downtown looks good. It has come a long way,” Smith said. “Hopefully this business will be back,” he said.

Pete Wilson, who sold the business last year and now operates Smoke N Peace next door, said he is disappointed.

“How you can go from a viable business to running it in the ground in 12 months is just beyond me,” Wilson said. “Hopefully some things can get done. It should be back.”

Ellis said a suggested change in a model for the business could be adding flat screen TVs to run news events during the morning. “The morning coffee crew is a business crowd, coming in on the way to work or whatever,” Ellis said. “Then shut the TV sound off after the morning and make it light music and atmosphere to study.”

Wilson said when he operated the business, “60 percent of your revenue was generated before 11 a.m.,” he said. Wilson chuckled about Ellis’s proposed changes.

“As an owner, every day I had to hear that somebody had better advice,” Wilson said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard. greninger@trib star.com.

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