Jackson’s Java, the venerable local coffeehouse that hosted countless UNC Charlotte study sessions, has abruptly closed its original University City location. Its last day of business was March 23.
The unexpected loss of University City’s only independent, college-style coffeehouse caught customers and even staff by surprise.
Even after the closing, a steady stream of students and locals continued to visit Jackson’s. They reacted with disbelief and dismay to the hand-lettered note taped to the door announcing the closing and thanking customers for their patronage.
On March 24, a glum-faced Kat Wyllie and Seth Harris sat in weathered metal chairs at a table still in place in front of the shuttered coffeehouse.
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“I walked all the way over here from Ikea to have a cup of coffee and wait for a ride,” Wyllie said. “Does anybody know what happened? People keep coming, carrying their computers and backpacks. Where will they go now?”
Jackson’s Java opened in 1994 on University City Boulevard, across from the UNC Charlotte campus near the Harris-Teeter market. At first, it was the only coffeehouse in the area, and one of few in Charlotte.
Even after the arrival of Starbucks and other chains, Jackson’s remained the only informal, college-oriented coffeehouse near campus, a gathering place for residents as well as for UNCC students and staff.
When the shop opened, owner Mike Jackson was a Republican City Council member in Charlotte, prompting jokes about why someone with such button-down politics ran such a Bohemian-seeming enterprise.
In the early days, his café hosted a few activities that were highly atypical for a college coffeehouse, including a “Dittoheads Club,” which gathered to listen to Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast while sipping espresso. But Jackson always took his coffee seriously, proudly bringing a high-tech air roaster from Seattle to roast his own beans.
As the years passed, the coffeehouse became a central part of University City’s social network. During the school year, and up to the last days it was open, Jackson’s was often crowded with students studying, reading, chatting and flirting. On Sundays, the coffeehouse hosted a unique bluegrass breakfast, featuring a live local bluegrass band.
Jackson provided exactly the kind of quirkily common space that gives university communities a special feel. Its closing leaves a hole in University City’s community space that will be hard to fill.
“Slappy” Thursday, a novelist and UNCC graduate who worked part time as a Jackson’s barista, called the closing of Jackson’s original University location “a bummer,” but said Jackson’s uptown location near The Green, at 401 S. Tryon at Martin Luther King Avenue, will remain open for business.
One closes, another opens
In another twist, a version of the coffeehouse has already opened under a new name at another University City location less than two miles away.
Called iPark Java, it has the same owner, baristas, coffee drinks and menu as Jackson’s Java, but in a very different new setting in Beko Innovation Park, off IBM Drive. The Beko location is anything but collegiate Bohemian.
The posh, high-tech, enclosed business park off IBM Drive is complete with gym, indoor trees and ferns, and leather easy chairs. It bears a close resemblance to the uptown location of Jackson’s Java near The Green.
iPark Java began serving coffee the day after the original Jackson’s Java closed, though the official opening was March 26.
Sheldon Woods, who worked at the University store until it closed, will now be working at the new location with Thursday. Woods is a second-generation barista, who grew up watching her mother work at coffeehouses in Hendersonville.
A UNCC marketing major, Woods said she regretted seeing the university site close and doubts many of the store’s customers will find their way to the new location.
On the other hand, Woods said, she also sees great potential in the store’s new setting. She was already serving a steady flow of customers, even as bewildered and disappointed students were reading the goodbye note on Jackson’s Java’s door.