Zoë and Teri Dosher in the bar area of the new Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room in downtown Johnson City. (Nathan Baker / Johnson City Press)
A local teacher combined her love of folk music and the shared atmosphere of independent coffee shops in her new downtown Johnson City business.
Teri Dosher opened the Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room last week at 216 E. Main St., achieving a dream she’s been envisioning for years.
“Music is my passion, and I love coffeehouses and that type of atmosphere, so for years we talked about it,” Dosher said Wednesday from a table at her new business. “This summer it hit me that we really need to do something or just stop talking about it.”
Driven by her desire to experience new bands, there was hardly ever a weekend when she wasn’t traveling to relatively close cities — Asheville, N.C., Knoxville, Winston-Salem, N.C. — to attend live music shows, she said.
After countless miles of travel, Dosher first jokingly, then seriously, began saying it would probably be in her best interest to open up her own music space in Johnson City.
She knew she wanted the combo coffee shop and music venue in a central location, convenient to downtown Johnson City, and when she toured the former Galaxy Lounge, she immediately recognized its potential.
The existing stage and bar area were perfect for the music venue she spent years building in her head, and the bonus room on the Market Street side made a fitting space for the coffee bar.
Dosher quickly rented the space, and she, her daughter Zoë and a handful of volunteer helpers worked nights and weekends starting in September to prepare for the opening.
When the new business was ready for its debut, she left her job teaching third- and fourth-grade math at South Side Elementary School to allow her to focus all of her time on the Willow Tree.
“It was tough to walk away from teaching, especially in the middle of the school year, but there was no way to do both at the same time,” she said. “I love teaching, I didn’t leave because I didn’t like it. This was just a chance to make a dream come true, and you don’t get that very often.”
Currently, the mother-daughter team shoulder the lion’s share of the work at the Willow Tree, manning the espresso machine and serving as a booking agent for traveling acts.
The stage will mostly cater to acts that Dosher would enjoy, which she describes as “bluegrass, folk and other Americana-type music.”
Zoë will get some input on the future acts, as well, evidenced by the prominent “Jack White” sticky note tacked to the bulletin board the two use to brainstorm possible talent.
Dosher hopes that coffee and bar sales will pay most of the establishment’s bills, so she can pass the earnings from ticket sales directly to the artists.
With help from Elizabethton roaster and owner of The Coffee Company John Bunn, she thinks that may be possible.
Bunn has taken the fledgling Johnson City coffee shop under his more experienced wing to show Dosher the ins and outs of the business, and in return, the Willow Tree will carry The Coffee Company’s branded roasts.
Dosher said she has been helped by many “angels” like Bunn in her adventure to get the business off the ground.
“It’s one person like that after another who’s coming out here to support us,” she said. “That’s been the magical thing about this. I told Zoë, if something were to happen that this ended right now, just knowing that there are that many people out there willing to help would be enough.”
In addition to the coffee shop, the bar and the music venue, Dosher said she also hopes the Willow Tree will serve as a community gathering space, a place for meetings and quiet contemplation.
In fact, the business is the namesake of her favorite thinking spot, under a large willow tree in her front yard, where she laid out many of the plans for the new venture.
“That’s really where a lot of the ideas for this place came from,” she said. “When we started coming up with names, it just seemed like that was the perfect name.”
The Willow Tree opened for its first day of business on Jan. 1, and Dosher and Zoë have been gradually expanding the shop’s hours and features to allow time to catch up to the new business learning curve.
The first music show was Saturday, a band from Hickory, N.C., called the Red Dirt Revelators.
“I was surprised by the turnout,” Dosher said. “We sold more than 100 tickets. For our first show and a band no one in the area had heard of before, it was a very encouraging start.”
The two are planning a grand opening blowout on Feb. 8 featuring two of their favorite acts, Americana standouts Yarn and Big Daddy Love.
Dosher said she hopes the new venue will become a regular stop for similar acts passing through the area on tour.
“That’s the overall goal,” she said. “To get these musicians to come to Johnson City.”