The owner of a cafe in the downtown Rocky Mount train station intends to close her business soon.
Whistle Stop Gift Shop & Cafe owner Tiffany Huddleston has started a liquidation sale of inventory. She said she doesn’t have an exact closing date.
“I’m trying to clear out as much (inventory) as possible,” she said. “As long as I’m making enough to pay people who are working, we’re staying open. I’m guessing we will be closing this week.”
It was a difficult decision to close, Huddleston said Monday.
“Right now, we’re just not getting enough business and we’ve not gotten enough business to cover our expenses, so we have no option now but to close,” Huddleston said.
In January 2012, she began operating the cafe that serves breakfast and lunch at the third busiest train station in North Carolina.
The business at 101 Coast Line St. is a place for people to buy postcards, books and magazines. It’s also a gift shop where local vendors sell a wide range of homemade products on consignment.
She opened the cafe in space that was formerly used by Tar River Transit. Immediately before the cafe opened, the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce was using the space for storage.
The city has been charging Huddleston $160 a month to lease out the space on the first floor of the train station, which is less than what was proposed in an original lease agreement.
“That (rent) does not include utilities,” Huddleston said. “I went back and asked for rent relief. I had asked for below $160 (a month). We settled on $160. The utilities are quite expensive for a shop that size.”
She said the city has worked with her.
“I don’t want this (closing) to look like it’s the city’s fault, because it’s not,” Huddleston said.
She said she’s been dipping into her personal finances to keep the business afloat.
“Quite honestly, the majority of our traffic comes from the train, and we have some very loyal local customers, a handful of loyal local customers,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of people who say (the cafe) is great idea but they haven’t got to see it yet.”
Huddleston said she’s gotten a lot of positive comments about the cafe.
“We are the first face of Rocky Mount when they get off the train,” she said. “I’ve had an outpouring of support.”
But Huddleston said there are still people who hesitate coming downtown to patronize businesses.
“I’m a complete believer in downtown Rocky Mount. But just because I believe it’s a good idea doesn’t change the perception,” she said. “We’ve come a long way improving the perception of Rocky Mount, but we still have long a way to go. There are still people who fear going downtown or this is not their first stop.”
Huddleston said she’s done everything she could think of to promote the cafe.
“I’ve tried advertising on TV and in the newspaper,” she said. “I’ve put out thousands of coupons to get people in the door. I honestly don’t know how to get people through that door.”
She said the timing of the business’s opening might have been wrong, as the Streetscape and Douglas Block projects only just recently finished.
“The train station is phenomenal asset in the community, and even if we are not going to be successful, there is hope that someone else could succeed in the future,” she said.
Jenny Justice has been patronizing the business about once a month when she comes downtown to pay her light bill.
“I like this place,” she said as she sat on a chair in the shop on Monday. “I hate they are going to (close) because it’s something for Rocky Mount. We need this.”
Storekeeper Dionne Luckett said the train customer traffic was not enough to keep the cafe going.
“We have some (local) people who come here all the time, but we don’t have enough,” she said.