Murfreesboro's Red Rose Coffee House and Bistroand sole all-ages venueofficially has moved from the endangered species list to extinction. The coffeehouse and focal point of the town's thriving rock and art scene closed for good Nov. 29, citing financial problems and a "lack of support from the community."
"It's just pitiful," owner Debra Kitzis says of the decision not to renew the lease. "I always loved the place. I loved the kids. I wanted it to stay open forever."
Located at 528 West College St., the historic building, which over the years had been home to a dairy, a dry cleaner and an ice cream shop, was transformed into a coffeehouse and restaurant by former owner Patty Hoffman in 1993. The Red Rose drew a regular lunch crowd for a few years, but as the restaurant added a bare-bones stage and started sponsoring acoustic performances, open-mic nights and poetry readings, the business set dwindled and a more artistic crowd moved in. The new regulars were MTSU students and coffee lovers who enjoyed a quiet place to read, study, play board games and surf the Web. Unfortunately, they didn't have much money to spend.
By 1999, under new management and with the help of local musician and booking agent Bingham Barnes, the Red Rose evolved into a full-fledged venue akin to an indie-rock Cheers. Local bands like Feable Weiner, The Features and Imaginary Baseball League were regular performers, and national indie acts like Mooney-Suzuki, The Faint and Deerhoof played there as well.
"It's sad because it's the end of an era for the local music scene," says Barnes, who stopped booking for the Red Rose in 2003. "And I hate to say it, but everybody saw it coming. Having an all-ages place for profit just doesn't work. You're limited on what you can sell, and we were lucky we could even sell beer, because we were a restaurant."
Barnes tried to boost profits and draw the larger community back by opening a record store in the back and catering lunches to businesses on the town square and at the nearby hospital. "I sympathize completely with Debra [Kitzis]," he says. "The MTSU community is just different than the Murfreesboro community. I tried so many things to make the community realize this was a special place."
As the rock shows increased, the Red Rose's regular customerspeople looking for a quiet place to study or talkwere displaced again. Many were allowed in at no cover charge to purchase coffee, but often moved outside to the deck or left altogether once the bands began their sets.
In August 2003, Kitziswho had assisted Hoffman in the initial opening of the coffeehouseand three silent partners took over in the hopes of again restoring the Red Rose to a place both the community and music fans would share, but that never happened. "We gave kids a venue and an outlet for their art and their music and their creativity, and tried to make it on food sales," Kitzis says. "But the parents of these kids didn't come in during the daytime. The adults stopped coming once the kids came. We gave them free Internet and free books and a place to hang out, but college kids have a limited income."
Local musician Tyler McDaniel took over booking under Kitzis and kept the shows going. He continued to make the coffeehouse a band-friendly venue by improving the sound system, giving the musicians free meals when they played, and helping out-of-town acts secure last-minute spots on bills.
Chris Slack, of the local rock trio Slack, played the last show at the Red Rose on Sunday nightan acoustic set that ended with a cover of Madonna's "Like a Prayer." "The reason why the Red Rose was so great was probably the reason why it closed," Slack says. "All the door money from shows went to the bands, bands ate for free when they played, but all the coffee drinkers disappeared as soon as the bands plugged in. The place will definitely be missed."