AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local community space Genuine Joe’s Coffeeshop will move soon to make way for a new residential building on West Anderson Lane, a situation owner Josh Brown calls a “cruel blow.”
The coffeeshop has lived in the 100-year-old rustic shell of a former farmhouse since 2005, when couple David Swainston and Victor Levi first opened the business. They left Austin in 2016 and handed their business over to longtime employee Brown.
Brown describes the business as “community first” and talks of the building as a collaborative art project by the staff. He never worried much about competition from other coffee shops in the area, as the homey café offers something more than coffee and espresso.
“It’s a completely different business. [Other coffee shops] have a very different, much more disconnected model,” Brown said. “Community can arise anywhere. But I know for a fact that community is not the focus of their business models.”
A community has grown around Genuine Joe’s like a garden, and Brown credits it as a factor that helped the business survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I spent a lot of time here alone, waiting for folks to come. But something sparked that led to the community now being stronger than ever,” Brown said. “[Community] grows itself, but you have to make sure that you have the right conditions.”
During the pandemic, Brown ran the business without taking a paycheck, started riding his bike instead of driving and was helped by employees who volunteered their time. He helped employees sign up for relief funds and only ran business-critical equipment.
But it was in the midst of the pandemic when he was told the land was being sold out from under them.
Brown said, “It almost felt like someone saying, ‘Hey, kids, you had to learn one way that it’s foolish to care about anything, nothing’s permanent and everything’s going to be seized away from you by someone with more money.'”
In response, the business started a fundraiser on GoFundMe with the goal of $10,000. Once the fundraiser started, regulars began to frequently approach Brown and asked how they could help. So far, 78 people have donated, raising $6,178.
Genuine Joe’s situation reflects a changing and growing Austin. It is emblematic of a “weird” Austin that is sliding away, pushed out by a rapid and aggressive real estate market.
“People don’t make local businesses in this town anymore. They make proof of concepts for investors to be attracted to,” Brown said. “That’s what it feels like, new businesses in Austin. When I walk in, I feel alienated a lot of the time.”