Maradee Potter sat on her living room sofa in Hazel Dell in early January, thinking about the loved ones who passed away recently: her husband, John Potter, who died last year after a heart attack, her teaching partner Betty and her friend’s daughter, Erika Karcher.
They were all part of a group that met on Fridays at Java House in downtown Vancouver. So while the coffee shop is a place where Potter created memories with the people most important to her, she sat on her couch reflecting on how Java House is struggling during the pandemic.
That seed of memory would spur a $17,000 fundraising campaign to keep Java House alive.
In January, almost out of the blue, as she described it, Potter sprung the idea of starting a fundraiser for Java House: partly as an honor to her husband and friends, and also to honor the business owners who have been serving them for about 30 years.
“I just felt like there was something I needed to do,” said Potter. “I was one of the first people to come in and get coffee like that. Would love to honor Erika, my teaching partner Betty and my husband, John. I thought: I would like that coffee shop to continue. It was just such a fun place to go.”
Potter called one of her best friends, Jan Barrett, mother to Potter’s former student Karcher, who died in 2016. Potter told Barrett about the idea, and she was on board.
“Whenever I’d be downtown, it’d try to stop by Java House for a mocha or a cookie or both,” Barrett said about her visits during the pandemic. “I noticed that the owners were both looking really stressed and tired. It dawned on me: Wow they’ve been hit hard.”
Three decades of service
Cora and Lonnie Chandler opened Java House in 1991 at 210 W. Evergreen Blvd., and it is the oldest coffee shop in downtown Vancouver. Serving mostly bankers at first, the company picked up steam and gradually became the place where the “movers and shakers visited almost daily,” Barrett said.
But the Chandlers have had their share of difficulties. They opened a second location in east Vancouver in 2000, only to shut it down about three years later. The 2008 recession also made their business suffer. Nothing compares with the struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lonnie Chandler said, with sales down 70 percent.
“Without a doubt, this is the most challenging period of time we’ve been through in the past 30 years,” he said. “Being shut down and having no one inside restaurants is a mortifying thought for those in our business.”
Bills for the lease, supplies and insurance were piling up because of the lost business. The couple applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which helped with the lost revenue, but it didn’t solve the problem.
When Potter and Barrett first approached the owners of the coffee shop they both loved and told them about starting a GoFundMe page to help the business through the pandemic, Lonnie Chandler was skeptical.
“At the time, I wasn’t sure about the GoFundMe thing,” he said. “I hadn’t thought about it in this context. I’d seen it for people with hospitalizations and funerals. It didn’t strike me right away. We had very modest expectations.”
With the Chandlers’ blessings, Potter and Barrett started a campaign page on GoFundMe, which they had never done. They set the fundraising “goal” to $3,000 — a number that came from the coffee shop’s 30-year run: $100 for each year.
“It was just a shot in the dark,” Barrett said about the amount.
“We had no idea what to ask for,” Potter said.
The two began to spread the word, which spread online, and soon the donations began trickling in. Ranging from $30 to $100 — then to $500 and $1,000. The donors stacked up, undoubtedly fueled by their memories of the coffee shop. The Chandlers recognized many of the names as their former customers whom they missed seeing.
In about a week and a half after it started, the GoFundMe clocked $3,000. And it didn’t stop there. As of Tuesday, the page had raised $17,000 from 154 donors.
“That all happened pretty quickly,” said Lonnie. “I’ve been amazed at the number of people who have donated. It’s really been very gratifying from that point of view to have people do that. I would have never expected that.”
Potter said she was overwhelmed with the support from the community.
“I was just so excited that the community was supporting Java House,” Potter said. “It was just amazing.”
Barrett and Potter have given the Chandlers three checks so far, and a fourth is on the way.
“We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to give them so much more than we anticipated,” Barrett said. “We were super excited the first time we took a check to them, and we’ve been excited every time.”
Cora Chandler said she was thrilled to see the community’s support of the coffee shop, and also Barrett and Potter’s willingness to help.
“We’re so appreciative,” she said. “It helps us keep going.”
The GoFundMe is still active, and Barrett expects it to keep growing.
In mid-February, Java House began allowing customers for dine-in service, which has brought back some of the revenue stream.
“We’re excited to see them again,” Lonnie Chandler said. “The Vancouver community here is a very, very special place.”
And with the additional help of the community donations, Java House will continue to live on as a friendly place for its customers, who have supported the business during the difficult time.
“They greet you by name. They know what you drink. They know what kind of cookies you like,” Barrett said about Java House and the Chandlers. “It’s the personal touch. It’s a local business that’s been here for a very long time. And it’s someone who needs help.”