About a year ago, Orchard House, a bookstore and coffee shop in downtown Smithfield, was on the verge of going out of business. Owner Chris Kinkade had posted a sign saying the shop would close unless a miracle happened.
Fans of Orchard House got their miracle when Melody Builder, a Johnston County newcomer, swooped in and bought the business just three days before it was scheduled to close. It seemed like a storybook ending.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Last week, Builder announced that the shop – now known as Melody’s Coffeehouse-Booksellers – will close June 29. It was in business just over a year.
Last week, Builder posted a message on the coffee shop’s website thanking patrons for their support. “It has been a pleasure to serve you,” Builder wrote. “To get to surround myself with your support has been inspirational.”
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The message also included a list of upcoming events – live music, open mic nights and Scrabble tournaments.
Chris Johnson, director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., said that’s what he’ll miss most about Melody’s. It wasn’t the only downtown business to sell coffee or baked goods, but it was one of the few that brought people to downtown after dark.
“It’s kind of a central gathering place,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of activity that goes on there in the evening – we’re hoping someone continues that.”
The shop represented a new beginning for Builder. She decided to move to Johnston after passing through the county during a road trip, when she fell in love with the natural scenery and the peaceful setting.
It was a nice place to start over after an ugly divorce in Florida, she said.
Builder had been working for a company in Cary when she bought the shop. The Cary office was about to be shuttered, which would’ve forced her to move to Charlotte.
Instead, she bought Orchard House, announcing to customers at what was supposed to be its last open mic night that it would stay open as Melody’s.
It was a dream come true for Builder, who had talked about starting her own shop but didn’t have the capital to build one from the ground up. She lost herself in overseeing art exhibitions, author meet-and-greets and live music nights. It wasn’t until January that she took an in-depth look at her finances and realized the shop was unsustainable.
“It was so personally and spiritually fulfilling that I hadn’t been paying attention to the rest,” Builder said.
The reasons for the financial woes were many. Corporate food distributors were hesitant to work with a small business, she said, so she had to buy her supplies at retail price from Wal-Mart. She butted heads with the town, which made take her signs off Market Street.
The U.S. 70 bridge closure might have actually helped, she said, since the detour passed right in front of her shop on Third Street. “People would come and (say), ‘We never knew you were here,’ ” Builder said. “We’re the best kept secret in Smithfield.”
Johnson said he’s hoping someone will take over Melody’s before it closes its doors.
“It’s easier to start with a customer base,” he said. “Once you close, people start doing other things.”
Johnson said the next owner might want to focus more on the book-selling aspect of the business – that’s something no one else in the area offers. “Coffee is really kind of a sidebar,” he said. “I think books are the driving force.”
Melody’s is centrally located, just off Market Street. If it doesn’t host another coffee shop, Johnson said it could be a good space for retail.
If the good location isn’t enough to sway a buyer, Johnson hopes the café’s history as a community gathering place will do the trick. “Hopefully, we’ll pull on the heartstrings of some entrepreneurs willing to give it a try,” he said.
Builder said she hasn’t thought too much about her own plans – she said she needs to focus on closing up the shop. But she knows it won’t be easy to part with it when the time comes. “It’s not just a shop,” she said. “It’s a way of life.”