Eclipse Coffee and Books was a Montevallo staple for 16 years.
When my wife Cheryl and I first moved to Montevallo, she was working as an MSW in Psychiatric Social Work at UAB’s outpatient program. We chose to live in Montevallo, a decision that gave me a 300 yard walk to work and gave her many long hours creeping up I-65 in the morning and then creeping back down in the late afternoon. After several years of this, and for some other reasons, she decided to step down from her position at UAB and to come make a life here in town.
We’ve both been used bookstore fans and she, at least, loves coffee (really, I never drink the stuff). Looking around town, she noticed that the lot the Eclipse sits on was overgrown and for sale, and wrote down a phone number from the small sign that acknowledged the lot’s availability. I called the number and was told that I was speaking to the daughter of the owner, who was in the hospital, and that I should call him there. After a lot of handwringing, I called the hospital number I had been given, and I spoke to the owner, who said, “I’m in the hospital! Talk to my daughter about this.” This was the impasse we stayed at for a while.
One day, as we were out scrounging used books for the store (we were going to make it happen somewhere in town), Cheryl noticed that the landowner’s daughter was having a yard sale. We pulled in to look for books (I had no idea whose house we were visiting) and as we were leaving, I noticed a very old man on the porch on an oxygen tube just looking at the goings-on. Cheryl told me that it was Lloyd—the owner of the property I had disturbed while he was in the hospital. After a few minutes of worrying about it, I decided I could at least go apologize to him. 40 minutes later, he decided he liked me and we had bought the property for the Eclipse on a handshake at a yard sale.
Between that moment and the opening of the shop was an indescribable blur of activity. My sister, Mary Maxwell, joined the effort and off we went. Figuring out what we were doing, buying equipment, getting permits and licenses—the list seemed endless. Cheryl and I were in the shop painting walls and finishing up details the day after 9/11. It was surreal.
And then we opened on 9/24. And then it became really surreal.
It took a few months for us to get more than the initial curiosity business—that’s typical. But after people realized we were there for the long haul, it all got real.
We were so naïve to think we could just serve coffee and some pastries—people wanted more substantial food for lunch and even dinner. Since the customer is always right, we started selling soups, salads and sandwiches, even though we had only built the kitchen to handle fresh-brewed coffee and espresso drinks and locally baked goods. Then came the milkshakes. Once we started making them, it seemed like we did nothing but make milkshakes. For 16 years. And we added menu items, wine and beer, and from there on out, it got so hectic it’s hard to remember what really went on.
What we do remember is the friendship, the loyalty, the live music and poetry, the College Night parties and the Life Raft Debate parties, the regular meeting times for groups, the spontaneous parties, watching parades from the porch and, in an odd way, the cats. Bighead, Sillyhead, F3, Willie, Doppelgänger and the others that weren’t there long enough, they were the soul of the porch, and when they could get away with it, the soul of the inside as well.
Closing the Eclipse has been one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. We’d have never gotten through it if this had not been the type of community we knew we were setting up shop in.
Thank you all. For everything.