Freeland coffee shop owner puts business up for ‘adoption’

Jessica Leon outside 1504 Coffee in Freeland: She’s looking for someone who will keep the business going.   - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Jessica Leon outside 1504 Coffee in Freeland: She’s looking for someone who will keep the business going.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

Psst. Wanna adopt a coffee shop? It’s free.

Weary of trying to sell for the past eight months, Jessica Leon plans to give away the Freeland business she has operated for the past four and a half years to someone who will carry on the heady mix of caffeine, art and conversation.

“It seems a real shame for the community and the people who love the place to have it close its doors,” she said Monday.

Leon owns 1504 Coffee in the Texaco shopping center along Highway 525 just west of Fish Road in Freeland.

She plans to offer the name, all the inventory and equipment, and all the “goodwill” already built in, to a creative person or couple who will continue the tradition.

“No capital necessary,” Leon said.

The new owner or owners must promise to keep the business going, and would make their own lease arrangement with the building’s owner, Erl Bangston of Freeland.

“Erl’s been great,” Leon said. “He wants to see it continue.”

She said if she can’t find a taker, she will close for good in a couple of weeks and start selling off her equipment.

“I’m hoping someone with time and energy, but not a lot of money, can walk into it and put a hand to it and give it a go,” Leon said.

“Just because I’m tired and can’t do it any more doesn’t mean someone else can’t,” she added.

The coffee shop has been a destination for the local java crowd for more than 25 years. Kent and Michele Lambert opened it in the late 1980s.

“It was pretty much the only sit-down place on the South End with a real espresso machine,” Leon said.

“It was quite popular,” she added. “You could even smoke in there. It was like a coffee bar.

Two owners and about 17 years later, Leon bought the business in 2006.

It was her idea to install monthly showings of the work of local artists, accented by softer, ambient lighting.

“Before that, the walls were pretty blank,” she said.

Popular Freeland painter Mike Foley, a longtime customer of the shop, had his first-ever showing at 1504 Coffee.

“That was a big deal for me,” Foley said Monday. “It made me feel like a real artist.”

Leon, 44, has been a South Whidbey resident for more than 10 years. A longtime devotee of Buddhism, she came to the island to help a friend establish Tahoma One Drop Zen Monastery in Freeland.

She bought the coffee shop envisioning it as a meeting place for monastery participants, she said.

A native of the Bay Area of California, Leon is a psychology graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and taught outdoor education in North Carolina for 10 years.

Her interest in Buddhism took her to Japan for two years, and eventually to Whidbey. She and her husband, Simon, live in Clinton, and they plan to stay on the island, she said.

Leon acknowledges that she picked a poor time to try to sell the shop. She’s had no takers despite lowering her asking price by half, from $40,000 to $20,000.

“I don’t have any allusions about how hard it is to sell,” she said. “This is the worst year to sell in 80 years. It’s ridiculous.”

The sour economy has been hard on the art gallery, too.

When she first started showing, the featured artists would sell about two pieces a month. For the past couple of years, it’s been zero, she said.

Leon looks back fondly on the coffee shop’s first anniversary party, featuring a spirited raffle, and on the time $1,200 in one day was raised for an orphanage in Zimbabwe from the selling of lattes.

But mostly she remembers her customers.

“The people who come in are so interesting,” Leon said. “It may be the only place you can basically walk into and get involved in a conversation. If you sit there long enough, you’re going to be talking to someone.”

“I’d like to see that continue,” she added. “But if the community can’t support it, maybe closing it is what’s meant to be.”

Leon can be reached at 331-1504.

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