Hot drinks in a warm, welcoming atmosphere

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

TRYON — Two decades ago, a newcomer to the Tryon area decided — mostly on a whim — to create a new place for members of the community to gather and enjoy a hot cup of joe and some pleasant company.

Even after several name changes, a relocation and new ownership, Bill Ingham’s old coffeehouse business remains alive and well, with the same focus on coffee and community.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tryon Coffeehouse Co-op, located next to Huckleberry’s Tryon at 62 N. Trade St. The milestone coincides with some major changes that have taken place at the downtown shop the past several weeks, as Mary and Kevin Parker, owners of Tryon’s GreenLife Inn at the Mimosa, have joined the co-op’s managing board to lend their experience in the hospitality and service industry to the business.

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The shop opened downtown in 1998, when Columbia-transplant Ingham and his wife fulfilled their dream of opening their own coffeehouse. Then located down the block from the current location of the co-op, the business opened under the name 222 Trade Street, though, after the town renumbered its downtown properties, Ingham started calling it the Gallery Coffeehouse, in reference to the giant “Gallery” sign that hung in front of the establishment, he said.

Ingham ran the business for 17 years, waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to bake a fresh batch of muffins for customers, in preparation for opening at 7 a.m. Guests served themselves at the establishment, with customers paying for their orders in a fishbowl and making their own change.

“I wanted it to have a Greenwich Village feel,” Ingham said.

The coffeehouse was open year-round — even on Thanksgiving and Christmas — and, for many years, was open until midnight on the weekends. The business drew everyone from musicians looking to play in the building’s pickin’ parlor, to regulars (all of whom had a nickname) who would often “occupy” the sidewalk in front of the establishment, to downtrodden people who were just looking for some company.

“It was a shelter from the storm,” Ingham said. “We never turned anyone away. People who others felt shouldn’t even be on the streets were welcomed, without hesitation.”

In 2015, though, the long days of running the shop caught up with Ingham, who decided to step away from running the coffeehouse.

Faced with seeing their beloved gathering place close its doors, a group of seven regular customers decided to take over the business and run it as a co-op. Helmed by Tracey and Tim Daniels and Chris Baschon, the coffeehouse became staffed exclusively by volunteers, who have poured thousands of hours into keeping the business running over the years.

While the coffeehouse is now located at St. Luke’s Plaza, artifacts from the business’ early days are everywhere inside, including the ceramic tile-topped tables Ingham built for the business, an old Elvis-shaped lamp, a painting of the former owner, and, hanging from one of the walls, a roundtable with painted-handprints across the top, “where all arguments started and finished” at the business, as Ingham described it.

Another element that has remained the same is the welcoming atmosphere. As Kevin Parker describes it, the shop is still somewhere where people from all walks of life can gather, without judgment.

“There’s a ‘Cheers’-like comradery here,” Kevin said. “We have a group of guys who come in regularly and sit in the same corner and solve the world’s problems. And there’s a group of ladies who sit in their favorite corner and do the same.”

Since joining the team, Kevin and Mary have helped the business make some changes to its offerings, including focusing more on serving locally sourced baked goods, such as bagels from Katie D’s NY Bagels & Deli, muffins and cakes from All Good Things Bakery, and milk and yogurt from Once Upon a Cow Micro Dairy. The team also plans to serve Frappuccino-style ice coffees during the summer, and will look to keep the shop open later on the weekends and for local festivals, Kevin said.

With the shop in the good hands of some dedicated volunteers, Ingham said he is glad to see his vision for Tryon’s gatherine place live on, 20 years later.

“I love to see the place still going — and I love the free coffee [they serve me],” Ingham said.

The Tryon Coffeehouse Co-op is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on Sundays, and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit the shop’s Facebook page at