If you come to Greenline Coffee on any given day you will see the local neighborhood faithful; those that come almost daily to get work done on their laptops, enjoy a cup of coffee, discuss ideas, and share life. A group of business professionals is holding a seminar in the conference room. The matriarchs of the neighborhood are holding their weekly crafting group. An older gentleman is playing the piano at the back of the shop, bestowing a beautiful original jazz creation to all the customers. Your sandwich and drink will be prepared and served by one of the teens from Woodlawn, who is excitedly working their first job. Local police officers, postal workers, teachers, students will come through the doors, all discussing the various happening in the neighborhood, the highs, and lows, of real life.
If you came to 501 E. 61st St. in 1950, you would have seen a bustling street corridor with a neighborhood grocery store. It served the West Woodlawn community and was at the center of much retail that extended along 61st St. However, as the neighborhood changed and became disinvested, the business was no longer able to be profitable, and like many in the area, ended up closing.
By the time Sunshine Gospel Ministries moved across the street in 2005, the building had been shuttered and empty for many years. When the idea of Greenline Coffee was born, a central value was revitalizing the building to house businesses once again. Another value was bringing opportunities for employment and investment in the community, all while offering a beautiful and vibrant space that was welcoming to all. The dream was that Greenline would become a central neighborhood space; a place that felt the ebb and flow of the neighborhood, where daily conversation and stories could be shared. And throughout the past three years, in the midst of triumphs and struggles, it has achieved a piece of this dream.
Greenline opened its doors in July of 2014. It has since employed more than 40 people from the Woodlawn community. Many teens from Woodlawn were employed for the first time through Greenline, giving them both work experience as well as a resume-builder for future employment. Raven McDonald, 19, is currently employed at Greenline. “This is my first job and I love that it is giving me real work experience and opportunities and I can later use it as a resume builder. I love having this opportunity in my own neighborhood.”
Within its walls, Greenline has celebrated engagements, births, new jobs, good report cards, teens leaving for college, holidays, and birthdays. It has grieved deaths in the community, jobs lost, homes lost, school challenges, financial woes, and struggle. Manager Ashley often remarks, “The importance of Greenline bringing so many different people together every single day cannot be overlooked. We serve more than food and coffee. We embody community.
photos by Caleb Hamernick.