VALLEY BROOK — The fate of a coffee shop in Valley Brook that unapologetically counts sex offenders, the homeless, drug addicts and others living on the fringes of society as valued customers could lose its business license by the end of next month.
Residents in Valley Brook, best known for its strip clubs, began circulating a petition to get the business tossed out of town last month.
Local residents, property owners and at least one elected official questioned whether Joe's Addiction, which serves as a food pantry, quasi-ministry and haven for the downtrodden in addition to selling cups of coffee, has exceeded the limits of its business license.
Attendees of a town hall meeting held Tuesday night said the number of transients in Valley Brook has grown considerably since Joe's Addiction opened its doors a few years ago.
Many residents believe it's only a matter of time before something happens.
The coffee shop's owners say they are providing nothing more than a helping hand and blame the recent public outcry on the growing transient population in Valley Brook.
John Circle, who described himself as a “20-year” resident of Valley Brook, said the influx of the sex offenders and other transients in recent years has changed his perception of the tiny town.
Circle said he has a daughter in her 20s who he described as having “the mind of a 5-year-old” due to severe autism. He said he fears it's only a matter of time before something untold happens, either to his daughter or other vulnerable people in the town.
“I don't feel safe with those people around,” Circle said. “And I've always felt safe in Valley Brook.”
Valley Brook town trustees heard from Circle and others Tuesday night before Bob Thompson, an attorney who represents the town, suggested the governing body table any action against Joe's Addiction until the June meeting.
‘A big issue'
John Zumwalt, whose wife owns Joe's Addiction, said the town's residents are targeting the coffee shop instead of fixing the real problem in the town, which is known for its strip clubs.
“There is a big issue here,” Zumwalt said. “The sex offenders who have moved in across the street ... that's a big Valley Brook issue.
“But it's not our store's issue.”
Zumwalt said if Valley Brook trustees decide to shut down Joe's Addiction because of “people's opinions,” it would send a negative message to potential investors who may want to open a business in the town.
He also said town trustees should consider another important factor before declaring his wife's business a nuisance.
“Even if we shut down, the sex offender problem is not going to disappear,” Zumwalt said. “We want to work together with you to figure out a future.”
Valley Brook is across the street from Hand Up Ministries, a trailer park that caters to sex offenders and other convicts seeking a place to live.
Mike Stamp, the town's police chief, acknowledged that Hand Up Ministries and a growing a transient population in Valley Brook are triggering a strong public response but said the “free stuff” being given away at Joe's Addiction is contributing to the issue.
“When you're providing a lot of free things, especially to transients and homeless people ... you're going to see more people call in and complain,” Stamp said. “It's created more than just a coffee shop business over there.
“Is that what they are licensed to do? That's why it's a town issue.”
Zumwalt, who described himself and his wife as “dreamers,” said he felt like Joe's Addiction and its future in Valley Brook is “between a rock and a hard place.”
“I think there are two issues here that are being mixed up,” he said. “Please, don't make us a victim of another issue.”
Fate of Joe's
Yet town residents didn't seem too moved by Zumwalt's words.
Ron Alexander II, who owns several homes in Valley Brook, blamed the coffee shop for recent thefts at his property. He said thieves have stolen copper, aluminum and other valuable household materials in recent years.
“In the last three years since that coffee shop opened, I have had more problems ... and I know directly who does it,” Alexander II said. “I see them over there at the coffee shop.”
The Valley Brook town trustees are expected to decide the fate of Joe's Addiction during its regular meeting next month.
It's unclear how the board will vote, but Mayor Donna Davis did make one comment about the issue before she and fellow board members went into a lengthy executive session about other matters.
“The license was for a coffee shop,” Davis said. “Not what you all are doing there.”