Jennifer Williams and Lorena Loftis got into business on J Street at just about the worst possible time, right before the economy tanked, marking the biggest recession since the Great Depression.
Still, their respective businesses – Williams and her husband, Skip, own Crow Trading Co., and Loftis operates Cafe Deva – have thrived in the 10 years since. And friends and neighbors will have a party Saturday to celebrate.
The two businesses aren’t all that similar, but they share a door that is open during business hours, and often share customers.
“We’re doing well,” said Jennifer Williams, whose shop opened on I Street in 1996 and moved to J in 2004. “If this is the new normal, I’m OK with that.”
She said business did drop a bit after its height, but her customers remain loyal to the antique store.
“We have people who appreciate that we have different stuff,” she said. “We’re consumers, too. We totally get it.”
Loftis, who took over ownership of Cafe Deva in 2004, agreed.
“It’s a lot of time put in,” she said. “I think that’s what has carried me. People realize that we’re here because we care.”
Having quality food helps, too. Cafe Deva has served fresh food, much of it organic, since before that became a larger trend. Though Loftis stresses consistency, she also has found experimenting can sometimes work. Eight years ago, she added live music on some nights. Now, live music and breakfast bring in crowds on Sunday mornings.
Loftis also credits her staff with making the restaurant a success. “We’re like family,” she said.
Williams’ staff also is her family. Or, more precisely, her.
Recently, someone came in and asked about her position at the store. She responded, “I’m the buyer, the merchandiser, the janitor and the salesperson,” she said with a laugh (her husband has an outside job).
She said she was sad to see the recent announcements by two nearby independent businesses, The Camera Center and The Dented Chef, that they will close their doors after many years in operation.
“It’s hard for the small-business owner to compete,” she said. “You don’t have the buying power.”
But she and Loftis, in their separate ways, are making it work. And they plan to keep at it.
Ten years from now, Loftis said, she plans to still be at Cafe Deva.
“I’ll be here, if my body holds out,” she said, laughing. “I can see being in this same place, as successful as it is now.”