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Theo's Java Club barista rushes to raise funds to buy coffee shop before Oct. 2 deadline

Theo's Java Club barista rushes to raise funds to buy coffee shop before Oct. 2 deadline

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Myah Ackerland carries a journal, its gray cover emblazoned with "Be the Change." She's put a Theo's Java Club sticker on the front with tape over the O and S and "redacted" written over it and underlined.

She doesn't usually carry notebooks, she said, but this one is special. It holds all her notes on her attempt to buy Theo's Java Club. 

"At the end of the day, I just want to make Theo and the community proud if I do get it," Ackerland said, "because this is such a important part of Rock Island."

Theo's Java Club owner Theo Grevas announced in July his intention to sell the coffee shop and move into "semi-retirement" 27 years after opening it. This is the last of four locations to close, the other three closing 11 years ago. 

While Grevas said in his initial social media post that the shop would continue normal operations until a sale is finalized, he's now decided to close up shop and begin the process of auctioning off equipment if no one's bought the space by Oct. 2. 

"I just don't want to continue much longer," Grevas said. "I've got some plans myself, I've got some things to take care of and I want to get to them."

The first drink Myah Ackerland ordered at Theo's Java Club, 213 17th St., Rock Island, was a hot chocolate. She was 12 years old at the time, and that drink set her on a 10-year journey from patron, to barista, to potential buyer. 

Ackerland came to Theo's throughout high school and college to study and socialize. Eight months ago on a visit with her family, Grevas came up and said he'd been waiting for her. Then he asked if she wanted to apply for a job. 

When Grevas took her aside and explained his intentions to sell, she cried. Then she asked questions. And when he announced publicly he was selling the space, she got to work. 

"I just went to overdrive," she said, "talking to anybody that I could about trying to keep it alive."

Grevas described Myah as a go-getter, but she's not the only one looking to buy the shop. There are about eight parties interested in buying the building, five of which have expressed interest in both the business and the building. However, there's no guarantee it will stay the same. 

In an ideal world Ackerland would buy the whole building, but she said that just won't be possible. She hopes to pay rent to whoever buys the building to keep operating the shop. If no one buys the building, then it's moot. 

Before any of that, though, Ackerland needs to raise money to buy the business. She started a GoFundMe called "Help Keep the Java Club in Rock Island" with the goal of $40,000 to cover buying the space and cover other costs. As of Sept. 9, $150 had been raised. 

If she raises enough money to buy the business, she has plans to turn it into a co-op of a sort, though she hasn't worked out details yet. 

The 22-year-old isn't alone in her quest to keep Theo's alive. She's spoken with the other baristas, Rock Island city officials including Mayor Mike Thoms, banks and the Development Association of Rock Island. She's received letters of support from the City of Rock Island and DARI. 

Theo's is the ultimate gathering spot, Downtown Rock Island Director Jack Cullen said. Due to its placement downtown and across the street from a hotel, he's seen crowds ranging from airline pilots to college students to people who might just need some support and a place to sit in peace, all interacting in the little shop. 

It also adds a unique element to Downtown Rock Island, making it an integral facet of the area. 

"Every community needs a Theo's," Cullen said. 

Cullen was sad when he heard from Grevas about him selling, but that quickly turned to excitement when he thought about the opportunities that could come from new ownership. 

Ackerland has plenty of plans for programming the coffee shop could host i she's able to purchase it, from family activities to partnerships with other businesses like The Spot to night events for adult crowds. 

While he hasn't spoken with Ackerland about specifics he does have knowledge of her ideas, and said he appreciates her passion for the shop and what it brings to the culture of Rock Island. 

"I hope that someone will be able to take over the spot and continue the mission that Theo started," Cullen said. 

One of the things Grevas will miss most about operating Theo's is interacting with all the people who stop in the shop every day. That, and a good cup of Joe. 

He'll still stop by once he's sold the shop if it's still in operation, he said, to see what's changed.

"I'd love to see it thrive," he said. 

If Ackerland is successful, he won't have to miss the coffee. She doesn't plan to change the menu, just the name. Without Theo there, she said, the name will probably change to The Java Club. 

Ackerland also loves the relationships she's made with patrons of the shop and how it feels like a home to so many people. 

She just has to beat the clock and the competition to keep the doors of this home open.

"It's scary to know that, because before it was like, 'Oh, you know, I have all this time to get all my ducks in a row to see who I could talk to'," she said. "But now it's like, you have less than a month to save what you love or it goes away forever." 


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