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Norcross city councilman buys downtown coffee shop

NORCROSS - A Norcross city councilman beat out two other potential buyers to acquire the Northern Star Coffeehouse - a popular, but not necessarily profitable, business in downtown Norcross.

Keith Shewbert stepped in to purchase the property after word got out former owner and operator Bill Luebben was going to close the shop on July 28.

The news resulted in an outcry from residents and businesses who frequent the coffeehouse and the Norcross Downtown Development Authority stepped in to introduce Luebben to potential buyers.

Of the three serious candidates who came forward to save the shop, Shewbert was the best, said Skip Nau, chairman of the Norcross DDA.

"The thing that appealed to us the most is he's going to do it full time," Nau said. "He's going to be the owner-operator, and in a small business like this the owner has to have that interaction with the customer."

Shewbert, who teaches part time at Gwinnett Tech, was also the only person with a history in the food service industry, Nau said, citing his 10 years of cafe and small restaurant experience.

Luebben had said the business struggled to turn a profit because of a lack of foot traffic in the store. He said coffee sales produce little profit for each transaction and therefore require a large number of transactions, or other merchandising opportunities, to be viable.

The former owner tried everything from a morning story time for kids to also selling wine to bring in more business, but he said there still wasn't enough to justify the cost.

Nau said Shewbert already has plans to add to the menu and could possibly begin serving lunch in the future.

Foot traffic has also picked up thanks to the publicity generated by the store's potential closing, Nau said.

"We sense a new buzz in the area," Nau said. "Whether it's curiosity or whether it's commitment, I'm not sure. But there's definitely been a lot more traffic."

A group called Friends of Northern Star was started by local business owner Dwayne Bassett and has helped raise close to $6,000 in donations to keep the shop open. Bassett said details are being worked out on an incentive plan for those who donate, which he said should significantly increase the number of donations.

Luebben will retain 5 percent ownership of the business and will lease the Northern Star brand back to the coffeehouse. He will also serve as a consultant to the business in the future.

Luebben said he will move back to the corporate world in a software sales position.

"It's time to hand it off to someone with a little more energy," Luebben said.

In the end, a community was able to step in and save its local coffeehouse, and everyone seems pretty pleased about it.

"It was very fortunate, and it worked out exactly as we wanted it to," Nau said.