Coffee house accentuates the generation gap

Some on Main St. irked by bistro's youthful patrons

August 05, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Eric Franks is a drummer with a Sanskrit tattoo on his right arm who scorns yuppie consumerism and 9-to-5 jobs and instead likes to meditate under trees and pound the djembe on the sidewalk outside the Jahva House coffeehouse on Main Street in Ellicott City.

Like hundreds of other young people, the 21-year-old from Elkridge has found a home away from home at Ellicott City's newest coffeehouse, which attracts large patchouli-smelling crowds that spill out onto the sidewalk in a tangle of dreadlocks, drumbeats and cigarette smoke.

Some nearby residents and shop owners are upset about the scene, which long-timers say is bigger and more unruly than teen crowds that gathered on Main Street in past years, usually in front of the older and more subdued Riverside Cafe down the street. They say they are tired of drumming that lasts until all hours of the night, cigarette butts and coffee cups littering the sidewalk, and the endless parade of teens and 20-somethings dancing and singing and hugging and smoking outside the coffeehouse.

Some merchants and landlords met recently to discuss the problem, but so far have come up with no solutions.

"It's a total garbage pit," said Inara Swanson, manager of Wind River, a women's clothing store two doors from Jahva House. She said the teens are noisy and messy, and some "look like they just crawled out of a cave."

"People don't want to see that stuff," said Swanson, who is middle-aged and fashionably dressed and spends her days selling hats, skirts and pocketbooks.

Ed Lilly, president of the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation, has agreed to mediate. Lilly said he wants to hear all sides of the story before he decides what to do.

"Teen-bashing is kind of big at this point, I think. When you're a teen-ager, you're big on doing things people don't want you to do," he said.

In a historic building that blends in with the other old-timey buildings on Main Street, Jahva House has three stories, each with hardwood floors. It serves an all-vegetarian menu, and its walls are adorned with paintings that are for sale.

Owners Kristen and Devon Potler, both in their 20s, like to think of the coffeehouse as an artistic hub and a safe place where young people can gather and feel accepted.

"I always grew up wanting a place to hang without drugs, without drinking," said Devon Potler, 24.

In response to criticism that teens clog the sidewalk, he said he and his wife don't own the sidewalk; the county does, and if anyone needs to crack down, it's the county Police Department.

Morris Carroll, a police spokesman, said officers patrol Main Street in an effort to keep noise and litter under control. He said his department has received "one or two noise complaints" since May.

Kristen Potler, 27, says that a bias against teens and 20-somethings is behind the complaints.

"We're young, so we've been finger-pointed because of our age," she said.

"It's not because they're young; it's because they're cocky," said Shirley Copeland, owner of Madeline's Attic, a doll store next to Jahva House. "I have nothing against kids. It's the attitude that bothers me."

She said at least one young person called her a nasty word not fit to print in a family newspaper.

Enalee Bounds, owner of the Country Store, said she doesn't mind the noise and litter too much. But she does worry about the fire hazard of so many smoking teens near so many historic buildings.

Young Jahva House regulars, meanwhile, gush about the coffeehouse. They say they have never found a scene so open, so real, so peaceful. They say it's an artistic place where everybody is accepted, where they can meet friends and focus on everything that's important in the world.

"I'm constantly surprised by how open people are here," said Colleen Walter, 18, of Catonsville. "Most of my close friends I've met here."

"I met my past few girlfriends here," said Alec Perseghin, 21, of Glen Burnie. When someone pointed out that the coffeehouse has been open only eight months, he shrugged and said, "One of them was a fling, OK?"

Fans like these say the Jahva House attracts all types, from punks to hippies to everything in between and is especially popular with Narcotics Anonymous members who like the alcohol-free and drug-free atmosphere.

"I feel that on the street in this place there's a renaissance going on," said Brian Gundersdorf, 23, who lives in Ellicott City and helps arrange Wednesday's open-mike nights.

Pat Kink, 18, of Pikesville said he likes the "performance aspect" of the coffeehouse.

"This place is the most receptive audience I've ever had," he said. A voice major at Towson University, he said his music has improved because of "constant affirmation from the crowd."

Rumor has it that the Jahva House was blessed by the woman who worked there before Jahva House moved in, who was into chakras and new-age spirituality, said Katie Graybeal, 19, a Howard Community College student who lives in Columbia. Graybeal also helps organize open-mike nights and sells hemp jewelry at the coffeehouse.

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