Just Folk: Downtown Revitalization in Elba

In 2007, a local family gifted a vacant downtown building to the Covenant Community Church in Elba. The building had once housed a theater, and in keeping with its artistic tradition, Reverend Mart Gray opened a coffee house that doubled as an art space for concerts, open mike nights, gallery shows, and youth programming, pulling in participants from a tri-county area. When the deli two doors down closed a couple years later, Just Folk Coffeehouse started serving lunch as well.

The presence of a bustling coffeehouse/deli on the main square significantly boosted downtown traffic and proved that downtown businesses can thrive in Elba. Just Folk is often "held up as an example of what can be done on the square" relates Gray. "It's a motivator for others who own buildings downtown," says Jimmy Harrison, a member of the Community Development Corporation aiming to revive Elba's economy. "It's a magnet."

Indeed, Gray is often approached by potential small business owners seeking advice. And though empty storefronts remain, Just Folk has paved the way for several new downtown businesses, including an art gallery, photography studio, flea market, and attorney's office. An old theater is under renovation as well. These new businesses have helped to fill in the downtown gaps, and have provided another jolt of life downtown.

"Lots of people who grew up here come back to Elba and they're proud their town has something like this when they never imagined that it would. They still have a great affection for their hometown. They keep up with us through Facebook and they come by and get coffee when they come home. There has been a general sense of community pride surrounding it. It shows that you don't have to be in Birmingham or Auburn to pull something like this off."

Last Updated: May 20, 2014