And let the 2014 begin....

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Neurotic list makers and type A note takers rejoice! A new year is upon us- which means another reason to make another list....as if we really needed one.

I actually made this list today in addition to three others: my to-do list for today, my to-do list for tomorrow, and the remaining outline of the Maeva's Coffee Business Plan.

Am I in love with the feel of a good ink pen- gliding across a vast white surface foretelling magical things to come? The contrast! The creation! Maybe its the print versus the loopy- a subtle difference in font that expresses my subconscious enthusiasm for each listed task. Laundry: loopy. Learning to make a good pot of chili: print. Filing sales tax online: loopy. Drawing a mock up for the new signage out front: print. Maybe I love the way my handwriting looks on the paper itself; an extension of my resolve and determination to be tidier, to make things, to go, do, and be. Maybe I love the way each letter looks with a single neat black line through its structural shape. Finished. Complete. Time to start again. 

My mother teases me when I make to-do lists that already have things I've done on them. I do this so I can start doing a to-do list by crossing something off. Isn't it the best cure for the trepidiation of beginning? Reflecting on what has been done? She doesn't think "Waking Up" should be on a to-do list. "It's a given."

A list gives me some hope in the finite. In a Milton world where every visitor is more than happy to remark that "You don't expect to ever get this place done, do you?", I need some finite boundaries to my wild ambition. I need to look on a paper and say, "See here! Everything thing I want to do fits within the bounds of this small sheet. Carefully calculated, yet somehow miraculous in its implication of possibility. If I finish this list for today/this project/this year- I will be satisfied that I have completed what I have set out to do." (Inside, I remark, "Which is far more than said questioner will do in such a time frame" and instantly chastise myself for having thought to compare a stranger's doubt to such a glorious list.)

I can write anything on that list. In that way- the paper is as infinite as my own energies and deep love for everything every moment could possibly hold. I yearn for the day that my New Year's List says:

Publish a Novel

Illustrate a Children's Book

Travel to South America

Weld a Giant Elephant Sculpture

or

Learn to Garden without Killing Everything

But not this year. Not this list. This New Year's List is modest and private....because the excitement of implied public goals have overwhelmed the ambitions I have for my singular person. This year I'll make a habit out of consistently folding my clothes and putting them away when they are clean, instead of wearing them out of the basket. Maybe that'll make me feel more grown up- the wondering child still at twenty seven. Oh, and I'll help to start Alton's only coffee shop. That's pretty grown up. Let's put that on a list. 

A list is an expression of my inner confidence of my brief time here in the whirling universe. When my small, small mind starts to whisper at 2:38am in the dark morning "You don't matter. It doesn't count. What good is it anyway?" I hearken to my completed lists. Uncrumble them from the trash bin, dig them out of drawers and out from cluttered piles of unopened mail on my desk. Look at all of the dark black lines through those words. Look at the things done! Write another one new- I say to myself in moments of doubt- and give yourself the physical ticket of permission to do more. It's an invitation. My consent. Admit One to Trying Again. 

Even a list of tedious chores does not dull my love of bullet-pointed expression. Those lists I view with stark, monastic appreciation and respect for the good things I've been given. A bed to make, a litter box to clean. 

If you would ask my favorite holiday- I would never ever say "New Year's" aloud. Not in this place where it's so unpopular to admit you have ambitions to "eat better" or "exercise" without cushioning it with the following clause "but you know how those things go- I probably wont last til February! No one does! Harharhar".

What if I do? What if this is the year of Meredith Fixes the Things She Wants to Fix About Herself and Has No Shame of Having Fixed Them? 

That being said, I've got a sourdough starter working in my kitchen right now. Couldn't wait until the New Year proper to start checking things off. 

 

Give the gift of "Ahhhhhh......" for Christmas with Massage at Milton!

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We all have "that person" on our list. You know, the one who is impossible to shop for. The aunt who has been blessedly successful enough that she just doesn't need anything. The father who just buys whatever he wants oblivious the scrambling his children must do at Christmas to find something to put under the tree. The empty nester who is downsizing and just doesn't need more stuff. 

Well, fortunately for you, we have this awesome lady at our schoolhouse who is an expert in taking the headache out of all holiday gifting. Bobbi Brooks operates Massage at Milton in her own custom build private studio- and she has gift certificates!

Bobbi specializes in deep tissue and prenatal massage- but her services are perfect for everyone with aches, pains, or stress from athletic sportsman to arthritic grandma. There's no way Joel or I could get through our six days a week/ 12 hours a day construction lifestyle without this blessed woman- who is simply masterful in the art of relaxation. Plus, she's just added scrubs to her list of services! 

Give her a call at 618.401.4741 and ask about her winter peppermint scrub that'll leave your dry and unhappy skin feeling so soft and yummy. Or check out her facebook for flash sales and specials. Her gift certificates are sure to be appreciated- and her standard firm 1 hour massage (which, might I add, is anything but "standard" in terms of its amazingness) is just $65! 

 

Mississippi Mud Pottery: Masterful Clayworking

Chad and Felicia- owners of Mississippi Mud Pottery in Alton, IL- have become our go-to friends when it comes to setting into motion the actions of change. Felicia lead me into the fight to legalize backyard chicken keeping last autumn- a innocuous hobby that shook Alton's city hall with the overwhelming support of the community and brought her and I together. They are great models of what young, hardworking business owners can accomplish in less-than-perfect circumstances...and their ceaseless dedication to Alton, their constant devotion to their art, and their adaptation to all business hurdles has been far more of an inspiration to me than they know.

Also, knowing their warm and humble personalities, I know I'm probably making one of them blush by now. 

I approached them earlier this summer with a favor to ask- would the be willing to partner with us in creating some of the mugs for our Kickstarter campaign? Months later when the campaign was being set into motion- I contacted them again. They had been positive in our previous meeting, but we had never really discussed the circumstances of our exchange. I wasn't sure what they would be willing- much less have the time- to help us with. Both Felicia and Chad keep intensely busy schedules, and yet their reaction to our project was a courage-infusing enthusiasm. They not only agreed to make 25-30 mugs and donate them to our campaign as their contribution to Maeva's but they spent hours with us talking about form, color, and decal design. In between their autumn shows they managed to produce three prototypes for us before our own open house- giving us a way to show others in person what these gorgeous, functional pieces of work would be like. 

Each mug made by Mississippi Mud Pottery is fired at super hot temperatures to allow them to withstand decades of use. They are all dishwasher and microwave safe- as well as food safe. 

 "A mug is a very personal object," Chad once told me. "You hold it in your hands, you put it to your lips. People sometimes ask why we don't make pairs of mugs, or sets of mugs- I make every mug different so that it becomes a personal object to whomever is using it."

Naturally, Chad and Felicia were quite agreeable when they heard we didn't have any intentions on asking them to fling out an assembly line of standard boring ol' mugs. Joel and I are artists too and we spent more than a few minutes relishing every unique mark the firing process left on each prototype mug they gave us. If you have contributed to our Kickstarter at the $100 level, you'll be receiving a mug uniquely your own- handmade by two of the most beautiful spirits you will ever find. 

 

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Paranormal Preservationists

The season is upon us. Gawkers have been driving through our parking lot with ever increasing frequency for the last three weeks- and Joel chased the first crowd of drunken thrill seekers off our lawn lawn not six days ago. Everyone is searching for a ghost.

The past three years brought us hundreds of people more seriously seeking out the world of the paranormal than these seasonal passerbys. This is the time of year when dedicated groups seek to expand their fan base through events and free lectures- some of them even make a few bucks for new equipment by leading investigations for the Halloween crowd on behalf of locations with a reputation to draw and sell these events. I see many old friends posting on Facebook- working hard to hold down their days jobs during the month of October while leading or participating in numerous late night hunts.

I do miss it. I do miss the many good people hosting paranormal events brought to the building. While I fully stand by our decision to no longer be hosts of said events in order to pursue massive renovations (and allow our business tenants 24/7 access without exception), I'll never forget the many good memories we made with the teams who came to Milton.  

We did not buy Milton because of ghosts- or its haunted reputation. Not being an Alton native, I wasn't even aware of these things until our neighbors took it upon themselves to so inform us (side note: that may not be the friendliest topic of conversation when introducing yourself to someone who has just moved in next door). It was not for the romanticism of the paranormal realm that we first agreed to allow tours to be brought through our home- bus load upon bus load- as we spent Friday and Saturday nights quietly sitting in our room with the TV off, reading or writing as we hid in silence. We did it because we had no money and we had a dream for this building that required money to fulfill. 

Doesn't that sound so...unappealing? "We did it for the money". It's true, and it took a long time to justify it. A good deal of time passed before I ever saw anything convincing in a paranormal way come out of this place- and yet we politely listened to everyone's earnest adventures and experiences as if our belief was equally as fervent. That sort of thing makes you feel like you're living a lie. I hated it. 

It wasn't until we chose teams to privately lead paranormal overnights in The Milton Schoolhouse that I became aware of this beautiful, unspoken symbiotic relationship a historic location with a haunted draw can have with the paranormal world.

I read an article recently about Theodore Roosevelt and the strange balance of his near excessive lust for bloodsport and his incredible efforts to create the first national parks in the United States. It mentioned that hunters are often the most avid environmentalists. They enjoy nature, they derive pleasure from it more frequently than most of us do, and are more in tune with changes happening in the ecosystems in which they hunt. They are are often the most interested in seeing a long lived, balanced, healthy environment grow and thrive.

The connection struck me. Not only because it is one I would have never thought to have made- but because that relationship represented, to me, the same relationship we had with the hunters of ghosts who came through our halls.

Ask most investigators why they do what they do- and most will say because they want to find evidence of the paranormal in some respect. Press further and nine out of ten will tell you they do it because they feel honored or enjoy the opportunity to explore places most people will never see. The pursuit of ghost hunting draws historians who love to find the story behind a place; photographers that see beauty in remnants left behind from another era; and adventurers who embrace the thought of walking the same path as those who have left this life. I'll admit, not having ever been introduced to the paranormal business, I felt terribly uncomfortable charging $50 for an evening of walking around an often cold and dank schoolhouse. But I heard, time and time again, thankfulness and avid support from the paranormal community for our efforts to restore Milton. In fact, it would be accurate to say the paranormal community believed in us first- before the neighbors, the inspectors, the business owners around us...and even our close friends or family.

Perhaps it was because they had nothing to loose. But I think it was because- like deer and duck hunters- they were excited to see the Milton ecosystem improve. They saw that, with us, this building had a chance of surviving another few decades. The roof wasn't going to fall in; the place wasn't going to be demolished. The environment was taking on an new chapter in its story: a chapter of survival and renewal.

When we decided in 2013 that we were no longer going to host these events- we did receive some comments of confusion and outrage. But the reaction from the paranormal community was largely a sweet sadness, a wealth of warm wishes, and a great cheer on of the good things happening here. I will never forget- or forget to be grateful- of their support.

Our friends in that community shared in our excitement with the progress they saw from investigation to investigation. Their money bought countless sheets of drywall, rolls of insulation, gallons of paint, and quite a bit of Chinese take-out for those late night construction pushes. These people introduced me to new ideas (we had a quantum physics professor from University of Chicago on an investigation once who believed that "ghosts" were actually time travelers- the discussion was amazing!), new inventions (we've had teams who consider this the activity in this place consistent enough that they return to test new equipment- sometimes of their own making), and stories that shall be forever immortalized in that first book we write on those early years.

As the excitement grows with this newest coffee shop adventure- I want to say "thank you", specifically, to the paranormal teams who kept those winter bills paid while we worked to build out studios for artists and businesses in the building in those first three years. Many miraculous factors made it possible to get as far as we have in the last four years- but the role the paranormal community played in the revitalization of this old building was absolutely essential to what we've grown into today. I hope that other property owners realize how lucky they are to have you!  

To our ghost hunting friends: I can't wait to sit down with you in Maeva's next spring, pour you a cup of coffee, and catch up on your adventures. Happy Halloween! 

 

Artists: An Alton Landlord's Secret Success Weapon

 

This morning it hit me: this is the singularly most exciting time to live in a city like Alton. While I might bemoan the lack of a decent bookstore or choice of cultural weekend activities, I am thrilled to own this mammoth schoolhouse in an economically depressed town.

Alton is not unique in the difficulties it has faced in the last few decades. After the peak of American manufacturing in the 1960s, our professional structure in this country began to change. As a country, we began to emphasize higher education and place more value on emerging white-collar professions. Alton thrived on manufacturing for generations, but when established companies began to succumb to this change- like the Owens-Illinois Bottle Works and the Alton Board Box Company- employees were forced to find work elsewhere. Those who could afford to leave did, and neighborhoods began to slowly fill with lower income groups as property values declined. Depreciation has continued. We are at the point in Alton where property owners are now faced with the decision to lower selling prices and rental rates or to abandon buildings completely. Unfortunately, many of Alton’s most gorgeous and stately historic properties are owned by people who would rather cling to the mirage of what their buildings were worth in another era rather than take advantage of a changing situation.

Here’s why it’s so awesome: this is normal. It has happened to hundreds of thousands of communities across America. It’s a cycle that repeats itself over and over in history throughout the world. But what makes Alton exciting is that in the last four years I have seen signs of Alton transitioning into the best part of the cycle- the ride up.

Alton is perfectly poised to undergo this thing called “gentrification”- if you want to get bookish. It’s a process that occurs when lower income areas are bought and renovated into housing or commercial areas catering to middle or upper class demographics. Commercial property owners in Alton- especially in the downtown area- have a choice: to slow the process by charging ridiculous rental rates for our particular market, or to speed it up by realizing the importance individual artists and shop owners play in this inevitable cycle. 

Artists (and “off beat” business owners) have an extremely interesting role in the process of gentrification. They are generally the least affluent group to settle within a neighborhood, and yet they are the most significant catalyst for its change.

Artists are attracted into an area by low rent or neglected properties they can use for pennies. A bohemian artist class will immigrate into the neighborhood- resulting in a hodgepodge community of previously existing low-income groups and the artists, revolutionaries, activists, dreamers, and such who would rather spend their hours finding expression in the universe than finding a way to pay rent for a decent place. It’s bad news for property owners who intend to get top dollar for their space- but watch what happens. While the buildings and areas may deteriorate and become an eyesore to the outside, something inside the neighborhood develops. A rhythm unique to the patchwork of people in the neighborhood begins to set a new mood for the area. Bars, coffee shops, bookstores catering questionable materials and hip atmospheres spring up to serve the local flavor. The area gains a sense of popularity due to its unique "back alley" way, bringing in more business from the outside.

Once such a neighborhood has been discovered, it is only a matter of time before the upper and middle class moves itself back into this now, new, "hip" area of the city. Gentrification has been hailed as the savior of the inner slums in large cities; turning dangerous, crime riddled streets into places thriving with successful business and clean cut condominiums for the affluent.  

Let me say this again: The bohemian class is solely responsible for the influx of unique businesses- clubs, clothing stores, cafes, bookshops- that cater to and attract a more edgy consumer base. They are providing an attraction by creating an area of trendy interest. This reels in an upper class who begin to visit and spend money for the chance to mingle with those who lead a romanticized free spirited lifestyle.

Artists not only provide the draw to an area, they provide a buffer between the lower income groups and the wealthy. As Rosalyn Deutsche noted in her article The Fine Art of Gentrification,

“For all the manifest political and social liberalism of the gentrifying classes, its members display the same anxieties with respect to living among or near racial minorities as everyone else…it was not until artists, and the middle class’s own avant-garde had established secure enclaves that the rear guard made its first forays into the ‘wilderness’.”

The upper classes, even the less conservative who claim to be followers of social justice and who generally are the first to visit an area and begin to move back, would not feel “safe” simply moving into a questionable neighborhood with predominantly lower income families. Despite the attractiveness of trends or location, the upper business class needs a cushion between them and their prejudices. The artist is this barrier, especially when the area undergoing gentrification becomes affluent enough to support artists who either come from the middle class or cater to their tastes.

You can probably think of a neighborhood in St. Louis (or any city you are familiar with) where you have seen this happen: A place with gorgeous historical buildings or a once wealthy area becomes a slum. Lower income classes move in, creating a darker atmosphere riddled with danger and poor standards of living. Artists move in. You begin to see graffiti…and then someplace begins hosting hardcore music or “offensive” art shows. As wealthier people begin to seek out the area as a form of entertainment or escape, the graffiti begins to disappear, giving way to safer hipster shops who are displaced by bonafide art galleries later on. The entire cycle- slum to high rent district to slum- can take generations. The speed of each particular segment can vary, but typically the fastest transition is that between derelict properties and artistic/independent business mecca.

Alton certainly hasn’t seen the extremes of change as, say, Delmar or Cherokee in St. Louis. Because of our smaller population, our extremes tend to be less dynamic as a whole. This is good- it means Alton may have a chance of seeing economic growth before we deteriorate to the point where violent crimes and destructive vandalism become common. Still, there is the unspoken potential for the city to continue along the path of decline if the local political environment becomes once again unfavorable to economic growth and if property owners do not embrace the process of change.

Property owners, here is the take home lesson: Artists are not a nuisance. Nor are the people who hang around them who may have a less than polished look. In a town like Alton- where our own residents are blithely content to drive to Edwardsville, Florrisant, St. Louis, or Belleville for shopping or entertainment- a smart property owner would begin to look for ways to collaborate with unconventional people to bring an active feel to their locations.

Here are some suggestions:

-If your property is vacant- why not agree to allowing a music group, a bawdy art show, or a temporary haunted attraction to temporarily use your space?

Of course, be smart and make sure someone covers liability insurance. Consider not asking for payment over than the actual utility cost associated with the temporary event just to start. Think about the non-monetary payment of having people brought into your space who might give you money to lease it full time. It only takes one person drawn in by and event, who may have never considered walking into your space, to be inspired to rent it.

-If your property is vacant- do you know why? Are people able to afford your rates?

If they can’t, then you're pricing yourself out of tenants. If you can't lower your rates and/or you truly think your rate is reasonable for our economic situation, compromise by dividing space and taking some loss on rental income to have activity on your property. Artists attract artists- businesses attract businesses. People want to be in an area where things are already happening. Once the space is attracting outside traffic, your property value will increase. You might think of dividing that 3,000 sq ft storefront into four or five 400 sq ft studios- and leave a larger space that will be attractive to a bigger retail opportunity once you already have something interesting going on. Walls can always be torn back down later.

-If your property is being vandalized and you’re sick of scrubbing it off, hire a graffiti artist to create art on your building.

Seriously- business owners in the Netherlands do it all of the time. They found out that graffiti artists very rarely marked over already painted areas- especially when the artwork was good or created by someone prominent in their network. Depending upon the artist or situation, you might not have total control of what it looks like but you can certainly make sure there aren’t any phallic references emblazoned above your shop sign. Bonus: Weird looking buildings turn pass-through traffic into gawkers, tourists, and clients who stop long enough to give you the chance to sell them something. Take a look at this crazy art outside of a restaurant we visited in Phoenix and tell me it isn’t more attractive than tagging:

 

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Most importantly: Evolve your business structure, property layout, and presentation to fit the market you’re in.

That’s just good advice all around- but specifically, stop waiting for some box store to save your property. It isn’t going to happen, we don’t have what it takes to attract them here right now. Stop waiting for grant money to save your property. Our government is broke. And stop holding out for some safe, bland old lady tea room or some mishmash craft mall to fill your space. Sure, these businesses aren’t going to paint your walls florescent hues and have people with *gasp * tattoos and piercings hanging around on the sidewalk…but that’s because they don’t attract people period.

Stop moaning about how Alton isn’t what it once was- be glad the old lady tearoom market is dead. That means Alton is on its way to rebirth in the economic lifecycle. Alton is ready for a renaissance, ready to make art, ready to make money, and ready to evolve.

Now is the time! Let’s do this. 

The Man Behind the Milton

I'm not as biased as you might assume. Even though I married the guy, that doesn't mean I didn't spend a good deal of time before the "I dos" thinking about what I had gotten myself into. Undoubtedly, the single most asked question during this weekend's open house was "What made you want to buy a school?" or "Where did you get the idea to do this?" 

 

This is the answer: 

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I mean, look at that face! 

We met a lot of new people during this weekend's open house. Many of you came to us through the Alton Landmark's Historic Home Tour- and are just now meeting us on Facebook or through our website.

I'll be as impartial as possible. Let's forget for a second that I'm a business partner with this fine fellow and, oh yeah, a wife, too. Allow me to introduce you to Joel Elliott- the man behind Milton. 

 

Joel Elliott was born "Joel Elliott Johnson" back sometime in the spring of 1980. From what I hear, he's always been imaginative, an inventor of sorts, a hard worker, and a bit of a loner. By this last adjective, I'm not saying he doesn't have friends or doesn't get along with people. This is certainly not true. It may be unintentional, but Joel has spent the last thirty something years developing a sense of charisma that is as much of a part of him as the cells in his very bloodstream. He is perfectly comfortable on a stage singing and playing music or welcoming massive groups of strangers (as he did this weekend). He just prefers to work alone. Like a track athlete or a professional rock climber- he loves to be in his own zone.

For better or for worse, his childhood didn't lead him to the usual "got to college/get a job" life route. He regrets this often...stating that he wished he could have gone to dental school, started a practice, and been able to help those of his loved ones who don't have the resources to take care of dental problems. He's always selfless like that- when he dreams of what he wants to do. It almost as if he wont consider anything unless it has a more noble purpose of helping someone else in some way attached.  

Growing up in a fragile home and tasting the bitterness of near poverty, life lead him into far more adventures than I have had. As a fresh twenty year old, he found himself in Alton back in the year 2000. 

He lived with his girlfriend and her family in a house right across the street from Milton on Fernwood. That's a story in itself- I can tell by the way he blithely glosses over large portions of said story whenever it comes up. At some point, the relationship went sour and he found himself in Milton's parking lot, standing amongst a pile of his belongings, staring up at a sign with a phone number that read "Office Space for Lease". 

Joel had been through the winding halls of Milton's massive structure once before- I believe after taking a martial arts class with Sonny Hatten. He called the number and met Gary Levi, the man who owned Milton before us. 

That name might mean a lot of different adjectives to a lot of different people. I've heard a lot of those adjectives in the last four years. I heard a lot of those adjectives this weekend. But, after reading through a journal he left behind in the schoolhouse, there isn't any doubt that Mr. Levi's personality was a complex and multifaceted one. It was also a personality that included, at its core, a sensitive heart. Joel's record of the meeting is not particularly descriptive, but I think Gary saw the same thing I did when I first met Joel: A determined young man with a heart of gold who just needed a chance. Something to work with. Something to make something out of. 

Joel wouldn't find it in the next eighteen months he spent  (for lack of a better word) squatting in the schoolhouse. No heat, no shower, no hot water. He only lasted one winter before he moved on. Fast forward thirteen years. 

"What do you do?" he told me. 

"Did you ever want to come back?" I asked. 

 "Of course I did. I loved this place. The sun setting through those giant windows. So much space to roam...to think...to dream. So many possibilities. I had never been in a place like this. For the most part, when I lived here, it was just me. Sometimes Doug (he and I did maintenance on the place for Gary) would bring me coffee in the morning. Gary would be by on occasion and tell us what crazy thing he'd want us to do that day. But it was just me, in this place...with so many....things  that could be made of it."

 "Did you ever expect you'd end up here again?"

"I always wanted to. But how can you expect dreams like that to come true? That just doesn't happen. And, how could I believe I could ever make something out of this place on my own?" 

 

Joel left a part of him behind at Milton. A part of his heart he wanted to share, and chose to share just seven weeks after I met him.  

The housing market collapse had caught up with the home decor market. The year prior, I was merrily naming products for Target and CB2 before finding myself without a job in a company downsize. No worries! I had a fresh BA in Business Economics. I was bright, full of ideas, ready to work my ass off and climb that corporate ladder. And I was out of a job for six months. All I could find was a managerial position at a Family Video store on the seedy side of Springfield, IL. The only good thing that job brought me was an introduction to my future business partner and husband. 

Joel and I realized very soon after we met that we didn't want to spend our lives with anyone else- but we both hated what we were doing with our lives. After loosing a bid on a restaurant in Springfield, we decided to take a date to St. Louis. That was May 2009.  

He was driving from the passenger seat. We ended up at some place he remembered in Alton that he really wanted to show me. Some story about some place that was so amazing. We pulled up to a parking lot of a imposing looking brick schoolhouse- with broken windows by the dozen and chains wrapped around the doors. There was a dead pigeon hanging by its feet in the second window on the top floor. I put on my best "I'm in love so I'm going to put on my game face and pretend it's lovely" smile. 

Joel didn't see all that. He saw the sun setting- golden and rich- through giant steel windows. He saw space to roam...to be...to grow. He saw a place with possibilities. But,  he also looked over at me and saw someone to change the world with. I saw the same in him. 

We didn't see eye to eye on what Milton was, is, or could be then. But we saw eye to eye on this: that we could do something exponentially more together than we could on our own. He presented Milton as an option and for four years we've been making a foolish and naive decision into the best thing that has ever happened to us. 

 

 

 

 

We're Building a Coffee Shop- and We Need Your Help!

Over the last four years, The Milton Schoolhouse has brought countless projects into our lives. Joel and I have not only built a home inside this massive structure- we've hosted a wedding, used our space to help friends build a parade float, stored boats and RVs in our warehouse, and (most importantly) helped over a dozen artists and entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground by building out nine different workspace studios. 

Joel and I not only have a passion for helping others start their own businesses, we have a passion for bringing business into Alton in general. Since the very beginning, we've thought about building a coffee shop. Convinced that someone would do so before we had the space/concept/time together in which to do it, the project was put on the back burner until this January.

While stopping through New Orleans on the way home from a family visit, my mother and I happened upon an old coffee shop in the historical section of the city. Old white and cobalt tiles, cracked on the floor, open shutters letting in the foggy morning, and the smell of steaming hot brew drew us inside. I was hooked. It was a weekday- without a tourist but ourselves and two eccentric British ladies. I remember watching the locals come in and out, conversing and laughing, passing along ideas and eating fresh beignet.   The idea of building a coffee shop in Alton could wait no longer. On the drive home, I began to make the first notes planning out such a place for Milton- and Maeva was born. 

Joel and I have spent this summer preparing the schoolhouse to host such a place. In addition to building out two studios on the first floor, we have also built out a commercial kitchen for a local baker who has agreed to provide delicious yummies for Maeva's. We've also been renovating the public hallways of the school to add to the appeal of the building. Joel has been collecting materials to hand build furniture for the shop during winter- while I've been working on finding a roasting company, writing a business plan, and fleshing out the branding of this gypsy lady who has so captured our imaginations. 

Purchasing equipment is our biggest hurdle. Our progress here has been self sustaining- and we fell that the financial risk of building Maeva's is very low. Not only to we own the building (without a mortgage) but we already have most of the materials to build the shop. But we live in a time where banks have become gun shy when it comes to loaning "young folks" money to begin any sort of venture. Since the amount of money we need for the equipment is relatively low compared to what it would cost for most people to start a similar shop elsewhere in Alton, and since we know Alton really wants a coffee shop, we've decided to host a Kickstarter to raise the $15,000 we'll need to purchase our espresso machine (and other kitchen equipment). 

Ready to build a coffee shop with us? Click here to view our video and project on Kickstarter, read about the awesome things you can get for getting Maeva's off the ground, and contribute today. 

 

Still a little confused about what Kickstarter is? Here is a short FAQ for you to read and pass along to anyone who might be new to the idea.  

 

Kickstarter? What is that?

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative projects and new small businesses.  It’s based on an idea called crowd-sourced funding, where anyone can contribute money to help finance a project they believe in. Projects large and small have been successfully ‘Kickstarted’ through this web site.  Only ideas that meet their goal actually get the money.  If a project doesn’t meet their goal, the contributors aren’t billed.

What is crowd-sourced funding?

Years ago, if a young person wanted to start a business, they would approach their bank with an idea, and the bank would likely give them a business loan to provide the capital to get the business off the ground. In recent years the banking industry has nearly completely stopped this service, leaving creative entrepreneurs few places to turn for funding.

Crowd sourced funding is where instead of pitching an idea to a banker, a person with a Big Idea or a business they want to start can pitch it to a large crowd of possible contributors.  Using the internet, thousands of generous people who only have a few dollars to give have come together to fund art festivals, new inventions, and even rocket ships. We hope you will join us in funding the start of a coffee shop.

Why crowd-source fund a coffee shop?

Everything you see around you at The Milton Schoolhouse has been achieved on a pay-as-we-go basis. Doing this has allowed us a measure of creative control that you don’t get if you have someone else telling you what you must do with their investments. We don’t want to have to compromise Maeva’s spirit right away by having to make loan payments. The money from the Kickstarter campaign will allow us to purchase the expensive special equipment needed to make great coffee. With the rest of the business we hope to continue with our policy of doing things as the money and resources become available.

Great! So how do I contribute?

Contributing is super easy! The link to our specific campaign on Kickstarter will be live on Saturday, Oct. 12th through Nov. 11th. Click Here to Donate. Also, check out our Facebook Page for live updates on our campaign. 

At the top of the Kickstarter page, click the big green button that says “Back This Project”.

Learn more about our project and read through the awesome incentives we’re offering to those who contribute.

Fill in your name and email- then use your credit/debit card to contribute. Your card WILL NOT be charged unless we meet our final goal of $15,000.

 

 

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It's time for the Annual Exploration Tour of The Milton Schoolhouse- and our first ever Studio Open House! 

Usually, we offer a grand tour of Milton's vast 85,000 sq ft in June to celebrate the anniversary of its purchase in 2009. But this year we wanted to make it EXTRA special.

You've seen it on Facebook, now see it in the flesh! The Milton Schoolhouse will be hosting a Studio Open House Saturday, noon to 4pm on Oct. 12th! Come in at anytime and explore the ground and first floor of the north wing. Peek inside of our business studios, meet our artists and entrepreneurs, enter cool drawings to get some sweet prizes- and check out that swanky new bathroom we just remodeled. See two classrooms in their natural state- just before they undergo renovation this winter to create three new artist/entrepreneur studios!  

What's that you say? That's not enough to tempt you to Milton's doors on a lovely autumn Saturday? Well, reserve your space on one of three 1.5 hour tours that traverse the expansive building- exploring nooks and crannies that are only open to the public on one occasion: our Annual Exploration Tour!

You'll get to see all of our work-in-progress, the creepy bits, our private hang out spots, the crumbling south wing, and ask as many ridiculous questions as you please. Plus- it's free! This active tour has lots of steps, so make sure you're up for a good walk-a-bout. Tour attendees will also receive a baggie of small gift-like surprises from Milton (no dead bugs, we promise). 

We are hosting a tour at noon, 2pm, and 4pm- all limited to 20 people each. You are welcome to just show up and tag along, but if you'd like to reserve your space in advance (and get something really unusual in the mail to act as your ticket/placeholder) you can drop Meredith a line at meredith.elston@gmail.com with your postal mailing address. 

If you are reserving a spot, please arrive 5 minutes BEFORE the scheduled start of the tour or we'll fill your space with walk in visitors. 

See you Saturday, Oct. 12th!