Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

August 12, 2013

Business - PhoenixSquare Deli & Coffee Shop descends into the ashes

JACKSONVILLE — It appears that PhoenixSquare Deli & Coffee Shop has closed its doors.

And, unlike that mythical bird for which it is named, it does not appear the business will be rising from the ashes any time soon.

The reasons are a bit of a mystery right now. Owner Deon Williams has not returned phone calls asking for comment. PhoenixSquare Chef Liz Staples also could not be reached. And former general manager Dave Cooley said he knows only a fraction of the story.

On paper, the success of the business seemed to be a no brainer: Healthy portions of hot coffee, well-prepared food, local music, WiFi, local art and even interesting musicians.

But the big question was: Were Jacksonville residents ready to support a local coffee shop? That's the question Cooley said many still are asking.

PhoenixSquare opened its doors in December. It had a great location location at 201 E. Commerce St. It was hoped that the facility would morph into a local hangout, much in the vein of a Starbucks. Internet and caffeine would be readily available and the damage to the wallet was averaged at no more than $10 a visit.

The store also was hoped to transform into a definitive venue for art, music and coffee.  

The Jacksonville Daily Progress initially was told that there were partners behind the creation of the business -- including Williams, Mike Withrow and Dave Cooley. But Dave Cooley said Williams was the true owner.

Withrow and Cooley “Withrow Cooley,” were the house band designed to become a central part of the store's music. Their presence in the community was shopped to attracted visiting musicians.

Additionally, PhoenixSquare's art gallery, managed by Tracy Williams, Deon Williams' wife, had over 400 square feet of display space dedicated to promoting local and regional cultural arts, including paintings, sculpture and other intellectual arts.

As far as the music and such were concerned there was a regular schedule of “Open Mic” sessions for customers.

But something went wrong. Instead of growing and rising, the general morale of the staff seemed to go down in Facebook posts  — indicating a continued frustration with the lack of recognition the business  was getting.

“It's amazing,” read one post. “Just had three folks in here from England. The visitors and people not from Jacksonville find us but the people from Jacksonville tell us they don't know we are here. Why are we here? Because we believe that this city has tremendous potential.”

Robin "Boogie" Butt, Jacksonville Tomato Fest chairman, said he didn't know what happened, but added that it was a shame the business closed its doors.

“I only supplied a sound system for them to use and we held our JAAC meetings there,” Butt said in a Facebook post. “I wasn't involved in the day to day business end of it at all. But it's a shame it didn't work as a profitable business this town needs an outlet for the arts and entertainment.”

Indeed, on May 20, the following PhoenixSquare post appeared on Facebook:

“It is with great sadness I announce the closing of Phoenix Square,” the post read. “We love and appreciate all of the people who have supported us from day one. Thank you.”

The Facebook responses indicated a lot of shock.

“Please tell me this is a bad joke!”

“I haven’t had the opportunity to visit! Dislike!”

“We're so sorry to see you go, but wish you all the best with your future projects!”

“Change is the most constant thing in our lives. Like the Phoenix, I hope your lovely business is reborn where it has a chance to grow and thrive.”

“Really hate it - great place to play and hang out listening to others!”

Cooley said Wednesday the demise of the shop is a true shame because there was really good music at a great venue and as many as 50 people during concert nights.

“We had musicians come as far away as Dallas and Nacogdoches,” he said. “We were starting to get a name and be known in the musical network.”

Cooley said he left as general manager because he came to the conclusion he wasn't on the same page as Williams with the way the business should be run.

“Originally, five people were supposed to be involved,” he said. “Deon Williams was supposed to be the 'go to' business manager who made the business decisions. His wife Tracy handled all the art, Liz Staples took care of the food and the coffee. I was supposed to handle all the sic. And Mike Withrow was supposed to handle backup and be the utility player.”

He said he bid farewell to the business on April 15 and the last time he saw the store open for business was May 20.

“It's a shame because we really need to have a venue for music here — some place that will be popular with the young crowd and musicians,” he said.

As for who might be occupying the office space at at 201 East Commerce, on the corner of Main and Commerce in downtown directly across from Austin Bank,  Arthur Blount, director of operations for A Circle of Ten, Inc. didn't have immediate comment.

However, he did add some news along those lines might be forthcoming in the near future.


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