Kenny. Tony. Don. Kevin.
They stroll in like they are coming home; Laura pours their coffee just the way they like it and has their order ready before they ask, smiling, laughing and never missing a beat in the small talk about their families, their jobs or freshly started college courses.
One year ago tomorrow, September 6, 2012, Laura Kelley and her husband Peter Simopoulous purchased the building from John Apostolos. They opened Fletcher Street Coffee on March 1, immediately following a blizzard.
“We took in $17 in sales that day and got a little worried about what we had gotten ourselves into,” Laura said. “But, business soon picked up and August was our best month yet. What other business can say August is their best month?”
The couple never intended to open a coffee shop. Laura had worked in restaurants and as an art director for an antiques dealer. She and Peter had worked in and been interested in real estate for several years and when he noticed the building at 398 Fletcher St. was for sale he mentioned it to his wife.
Laura grew up in the Highlands and went to school at the Bartlett School. She occasionally stopped by the little coffee shop for a treat as a kid.
“Everybody has the dream of being their own boss, of owning their own business,” she said. “ And we definitely did not want this little coffee shop to close – the building had been home to one business or another for more than 90 years, through all of the good and bad times the neighborhood had gone through.”
From the Great Depression of the 1930’s to the arson and drug-fueled destruction that hit the Acre hard in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the little building at 398 Fletcher St. soldiered on. It showed a few war wounds through the years – robberies, smashed windows and graffiti, but nothing permanent.
It had been a creamery, a convenience store and Honest George’s Bicycle Repair Shop before the Apostolos family bought the building in 1958.
Harry Apostolos owned the Quality Donut Shop in Kearney Square. He and his sons, Spencer and John bought the Fletcher Street building and opened Quality Dairy Bar (later Model Dairy) in December 1958.
The location sold Quality Donuts, as well as eggs and dairy products, deli meats and other assorted groceries. In later years it became primarily a coffee shop also known for its steamed hot dogs (a delicacy Laura continues to serve).
Laura did not change the place a lot when she took over.
“We cleaned it up a bit, threw some fresh paint on the walls,” she said. “We moved the counter and made it a little more comfortable in here and added egg sandwiches to the menu, but it is still just a little neighborhood coffee shop; John’s old customers all still come in and we have a lot of new customers too.
“Once they come in one morning, they come back every day,” she said, smiling.
Lowell Housing Authority workers; UMass Lowell students coming into the city from the Gallagher Terminal; teachers, parents and students from the Murkland School. They all start their day at Fletcher Street Coffee.
“It is so cute when a parent pulls up outside and a kids runs in and puts money down on the counter for a doughnut on the way to school,” Laura said.
Their investment is not only in their little business, but in the neighborhood.
Laura stands in the doorway of her coffee shop and looks across Fletcher Street. Instead of watching the kids from the Murkland School playing at recess, she sees a concrete cubicle, one of several placed in the North Common in the 1970’s “when concrete was the thing,” she said.
Laura would like to see those torn down; she is even willing to “adopt” the area and plant flowers along Fletcher Street, beautifying the space and restoring pride to the area.
“It is a great time to be in the Acre with everything the city and the university have been doing, but there is more than can be done, especially here in this historic district along Fletcher Street,” she said.