The Coffee Shoppe Opens in Selma
By Kirsten J. Barnes
For Jackie Smith, starting her own business was a dream come true and an answer to a prayer. Since retiring as the Selma City Clerk in 2003, Smith had been commuting to work in Montgomery.
"I would leave home at about six in the morning, and sometimes I wouldn't get home until after nine at night," Smith said. "I wanted to get off the road and do something at home and be close to my family."
So, Smith began researching business ideas. She realized one of the things she loved—fresh brewed coffee—wasn't available in Selma.
"All my life, I woke up to coffee," said Smith, a native of Selma. "When I was commuting, coffee was a part of my day. I would stop to get coffee and a muffin to keep me going."
It was while conducting her research that she found the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network, an outreach agency of the University of Alabama's Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration.
"She was doing the right thing and was looking for information. She contacted the local chamber of commerce. The chamber is our partner and they referred her to us," said Annette Watters, director of AERN. "We can't be on the ground every day in every county. Our partners are there to help their constituents in our AERN rural areas.
"When a rural entrepreneur wants the University of Alabama's help, our partners let us know."
Not only was Smith able to speak with Outreach Coordinator Mary Patterson about her specific needs, but she also was able to use the AERN resources located in Selma at her local chamber of commerce. These resources are provided free of charge by The University of Alabama's administration and a federal grant for AERN.
"I was able to get information on my business plan and all types of tips for operating a successful coffee shop. Anything that they didn't have there on the shelf was on a website that linked you directly to other resources. It was a lot of help," Smith said. "Mary is a jewel. She not only shared with me her business knowledge and finance background, she took a personal interest in making sure that I succeeded and to make sure I had everything I needed."
Smith opened her store, The Coffee Shoppe, on Nov. 14, 2011. Open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, the restaurant is already getting requests to add a breakfast menu to its assortment of homemade pastries, salads, soups and panini sandwiches, as well as fresh ground coffee and espressos.
"The customers want me to grind and bag it. I'm thinking about it, but we're not there yet," said Smith, who has three employees, one part-time and two full-time. "Business is great and has steadily increased. We have our loyal customer-base and we have our share of tourists. Everyday we're seeing more customers, new customers and customers bringing customers. We're still seeing growth past the honeymoon period."
Smith said she knows it is the hard work and preparation that has made the difference in her immediate success. But, she also has noticed another success story.
The Coffee Shoppe, just a few blocks from the Edmond Pettis Bridge, provides something Selma has longed for, for generations.
"Selma has always been a town that is divided by so many things: race, class, income. We've had our share of differences," Smith said. "Today, The Coffee Shoppe is that place where white, black, young, old, lawyers, doctors, working people can all come together. It a place where a diverse group of people is enjoying good food and drinking good coffee."
From AERNews, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2012