“I’m pretty blown away,” said John Hedley, a Vietnam War veteran and president of the nonprofit Welcome Home Veterans Living History Museum at Richard’s Coffee Shop. “I’m just amazed at how far we’ve been able to come, and it’s through the efforts of veterans and so many others.”
Veterans from across the country visit the coffee shop each year to view its displays of military mementos and, more importantly, to hang out with fellow veterans.
At 5,500 square feet, the space is four times the size of the group’s former location farther south on Main Street.
The building also has emotional meaning for the group. The building is directly across North Main Street from the late Richard Warren’s original Pat’s Coffee Shop. The Vietnam War pilot always greeted veterans with a friendly “Welcome home” as they walked through the door of the cafe. The location also is in front of where Warren lived – and died.
Hedley, who lives in Denver, N.C., also praised Cornelius-based Aquesta Bank.
“When we put an offer on the building, we didn’t have enough financially as a 501(c)(3) to satisfy the underwriters,” Hedley said. “I made the offer three years ago, and the bank kept extending it past the usual 90 days” in which to close on a property.
“We had less than $3,500 in our account when I made the offer,” Hedley said.
The group raised $55,000 over two years ago “to show good faith” toward the $390,000 asking price on the building, Hedley said. He retired as a lieutenant colonel after a 24-year Army career and worked for a defense contractor.
Welcome Home Veterans has now paid off $130,000, and the note is down to $260,000, Hedley said.
That includes the $25,000 the group put down at last week’s closing and which Aquesta Bank matched.
Hedley celebrated the closing at home that night by offering a toast to Warren with a glass of champagne.
“Richard Warren should be looking down and saying, ‘Welcome Home Veterans has a home, and it’s permanent,’ ” Hedley said.