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Beloved Neptune Beach coffee bar Lillie’s closes down

Photo by Rachel Cazares
Photo by Rachel Cazares

In the modern urban community, coffee shops seem to be the go-to places for people to mingle with friends, study for school or enjoy their own solitude away from home. But for many Neptune Beach residents and UNF students, their Keurig away from home is shutting off for good.

Lillie’s Coffee Bar is scheduled to close Oct. 31 after months of trying to negotiate a lease agreement with the landlord.

Before Lillie’s Coffee Bar, there was Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe which closed due to problems paying rent. While graphic design freshman Katherine Lester says it took locals a little while to warm up to Lillie’s Coffee Bar when it opened in 2010, the 658 shares of its farewell post on Facebook attest to the support it has received over the years.

This is why manager Joe D’Alesio, who worked as a barista at Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe, was surprised last Wednesday when sisters and owners Katy Millan and Debbie Criman informed him they would be closing shop.

“Shelby’s closed, without giving out too much, for rent issues. They weren’t able to keep up. The business wasn’t as good, so they shut down,” D’Alesio said. “I was pretty shocked, just because the business here is fine – actually it’s great. We’ve increased sales every year. It’s gotten to the point where, you know, I can take off more than I would have previously been able to, because they can afford it.”

D’Alesio said the lack of control the sisters would have over the coffee shop if they signed the lease was the deciding factor to hang up the mug.

“All I can say is that Katy and Debbie would have given up more control of the shop than they would have liked to in the new lease, and it would not be Lillie’s Coffee Bar as you see it right now,” D’Alesio said. “It would have been a whole different thing, just Lillie’s name, so it was pretty sad for Katie and Debbie when they saw it. That’s why they didn’t sign it. They have too much integrity for that.”

Photo by Rachel Cazares
Photo by Rachel Cazares

Lester, a beach community native, went to church with Shelby Hicks, owner of Shelby’s Coffee Shoppe. She also took piano lessons with the sisters’ niece and saw her cousin Justin Cuyr perform at Lillie’s Coffee Bar.

Since Lester values the community she grew up in, she is bothered by the reason she heard the shop is closing. She says the landlord means well, but doesn’t quite get it.

“I mean, he was talking about how well Lillie’s has been doing, and obviously he wants to get in on that, and so I think he’s probably going to do his own thing, but I’m sure the community is not going to be cool with that and, I don’t know, like anyone who actually goes to Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach is not going to support that.”

UNF Assistant Professor of Philosophy Paul Carelli, who has lived at the Beaches for more than six years, has been going to Lillie’s Coffee Bar since it opened. Being a regular, he was upset last weekend when another patron informed him of the close.

“I was really sad, because it’s the only café that I know of that’s in the north beach area,” Carelli said. “There’s Delicomb that’s closer to Beach, and then there’s Bold Bean way down on 3rd. But this is the only one that’s close by. I can walk here. I can bike here. I think Lillie’s really serves the community well, and I am sad to see it go.”

However, Lillie’s Coffee Bar serves more than just the beach community. Robin Kavan, who went to Terry Parker High School with Millan, lives in Tampa but visits Jacksonville frequently–always making a stop into Lillie’s.

“It’s such an open, light place,” Kavan said. “You know, I love local places. And there’s, you know, I know there’s a Starbucks, but there’s just nothing right in this area where you can just grab a coffee, hang out, talk to people. They do the music on the weekends, so it’s just a great gathering place.”

Barista Kelsey Harrell, who started working at Lillie’s Coffee Bar a year ago, remembers her first time seeing it.

“A year ago, I moved to Jacksonville for the first time and was walking around with my mom in Neptune Beach and saw the lights outside and was like, ‘I love this place. I want to be here,’” Harrell said. “Everyone was just so nice, and welcoming, and smiling, ordering a drink, and made you feel like home, like everything is okay. And yeah, it was the atmosphere–sitting outside and being able to talk to anybody who comes in the door was like so sweet.”

Although locals are sad to see Lillie’s Coffee Bar close, they will always remember the memories made there.

Natalie Yant, marketing junior, recalls one of her favorite memories of Lillie’s when she ate her breakfast on the beach with a friend.

“I guess I’m not the only one who liked Lillie’s Coffee Bar because the seagulls ate my breakfast,” Yant said. “We just got basically attacked by a bunch of seagulls.”

There are currently no plans to relocate Lillie’s Coffee Bar or put anything in its place.

For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story, contact [email protected].

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