When Gina and Darrin Swan first laid eyes on a nearly century-old building on downtown Dothan’s South Foster Street, they knew it had to be saved.
The three-story brick building, known to locals as the old Carmichael building, had been dormant for decades, but the Swans immediately saw past its boarded-up façade.
After a short look inside, the decision was made. They were going to bring it back to life, and before long, a big idea was brewing.
“Coffee has always been a passion of ours,” said Gina. “We thought a coffee shop would be the best environment to bring people and the community together.”
All in the Family
Gina and Darrin are Army veterans, and their years of service took them all over the world before they landed at Fort Rucker and made their home in the Dothan area.
“We had the good fortune of experiencing a lot of really good locally roasted coffee in our travels,” said Gina. “Even so, we got special training and certifications for roasting. We invested quite a lot to make sure that we could brew the perfect cup of coffee.”
Still, their biggest investment was the building itself. Gina and Darrin, along with their son Zach and his girlfriend Destiny Hosmer, put in nearly two years of work to bring their vision to life. It was not only a substantial financial commitment; they each dedicated their time and elbow grease to peel back the layers of grime and patchwork design.
“The first thing we had to do was get the roof replaced,” explained Gina. “There were 19 baby swimming pools worth of water on the top floor as well as several areas where rainwater was draining onto the first floor.”
The family removed dozens of dumpsters of trash from the building, saving many items they’d one day put on display, such as match books and bank deposit slips from the 1930s and ‘40s.
Zach spent six months soda-blasting every inch of the interior to clean the original brick and woodwork. The team also restored an old freight elevator and vault, which they turned into a reading room and community library space.
“It was meticulous work bringing the shell of the building up to current electrical and structural code, while also preserving as much of the building’s historical charm as possible,” said Darrin.
Living Out Their Dream
Named for Dothan’s famous murals which line many downtown streets, Mural City Coffee Company has had an outpouring of community support since it’s opening in October 2018. Most days, a busy stream of customers keep the shop lively and eclectic. Paintings by local artists hang on the walls, live music entertains night-time crowds, and locally made pastries and baked goods complement their offerings. The menu features both specialty grade coffee roasted on site as well as a large selection of artisan whole-leaf teas.
Unlike other local coffee shops, Mural City isn’t known as an early morning coffee spot. Its hours generally run between 9 a.m. and 9 or 10 p.m.
“Our focus has always been about offering a social atmosphere and a place that is open late in a safe setting,” said Gina. “To us, that’s more important than being a place where people grab a cup of coffee and go.”
The Swan family’s work has also garnered local and national buzz. Zach won a gold award from the American Advertising Federation for the coffee shop’s logo design, which he created himself. In addition, a national publication – Preservation Magazine – recognized the family’s efforts to efforts to preserve and repurpose a piece of Dothan’s history in its Spring 2019 issue.
In the coming weeks, they’ll also launch Mural City’s e-commerce site and open the building’s second floor for venue rental space. The Swans live on the third floor.
While Dothan was already amid a remarkable downtown revitalization, mostly on North Foster Street, the Swans are most proud that their work has fanned the flames of revival further south.
“Two years ago, you only saw the necessary traffic on this side of the street. Now, we see people out walking their dogs, jogging or meeting friends. That’s been so cool,” said Darrin.
Gina agreed, saying, “So much has happened since we started this process, and other buildings have been purchased with plans to revitalize. Our biggest hope is that our journey has been a catalyst to inspire someone else to be brave enough to do this too.”
Story and Photos by Melissa Johnson Warnke
This article can also be found on Pages 8-9 of the July 2019 Alabama Retailer.