PRINCETON — Talk and dreams shared between three sisters gradually came together 25 years ago and created place for conversation, food and leaving life’s frantic pace behind while having a cup of coffee.
The idea for the place now called Sisters Coffee House on West Main Street in Princeton came together when three sisters relaxed and shared their idea, owner Gwen Ramey recalled.
“There were three of us girls: Jane and Sue and myself,” she said. “We would have sister chills way back in the Nineties, early Nineties. Every year we would try to get together. We were all really close. We would just be talking about our dreams and goals and we were always talking like ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have a coffee house someplace were people can come and hang out? Create an atmosphere of relaxation, you know, and have music, poetry, whatever, and we talked about that for a long time.”
The sisters went separate ways as they grew up, but they kept talking about having a coffee house. The concept evolved from an idea to brick-and-mortar reality as Mercer Street in Princeton started undergoing renovations.
“And Jane, of course, moved to Vermont and worked for Vermont Coffee Time. My sister Sue eventually married and had a family and she’s still in Michigan; and, of course, myself landed in Princeton and I worked at the hospital,” Ramey said. “But through this whole process of getting together and talking about everything, one day they were renovating downtown and I called Jane and I said, you know, if we’re going to do this thing like we keep talking about I think it’s a good time to do it. They’re renovating, you know, and it would be a good spot.”
“And she like, well, I don’t know about West Virginia and my sister Sue couldn’t because she had responsibilities and obligations,” Ramey continued. “Jane and I were divorced so we were pretty free. She called me about three months later and said, ‘I’m ready to take the plunge.’”
Ramey was ready as well.
“And I said, ‘I am, too,’ and we jumped in with both feet. That was in 1997 when we opened, so it was something that we had in us, you know. And of course I believe God puts in us talents and hopes and dreams and all this, and I think that was part of our mission, I guess,” she said. “So we thought, let’s just do it. I mean, what do we have to lose? Our kids were grown. We could always probably find another job somewhere and this is an opportunity for us to pursue our vision, the dream we had, so we did.”
The first Sisters Coffee House opened on Mercer Street and stayed there for several years, often having live music while cruisers were going up and down the street. Jane and Gwen dreamed of finding an older home they could convert, and this dream came to fruition when a house became available on West Main Street near the Mercer County Courthouse. Sisters has been at that house about 16 years.
“It really is amazing. We were up and down and in and out with different changes, you know,” Ramey said. “The economy and Sister Jane became ill and passed away, just different things. But we made it and we’re still here, and that just shows me that it was meant to be, I guess.”
Long-time Sisters Coffee House patrons remember how Jane would always call out “One more! One more!” whenever a band starting wrapping up a show.
“She had the passion for the music and she did a great job of bringing that to the community. She really did. And I miss her. Every day, I miss her,” Ramey said. “I kind of lost part of that when she passed away, you know. It just wasn’t the same. We still do music and stuff, but not on the scale Sister Jane brought to us. She loved it.”
Promotional pictures of musicians who have performed at Sisters are visible all along the wall with other mementoes. The centerpiece is a painting of the late Nat Reese, a nationally-known blues musician and guitarist who often performed at Sisters. His music is now among the archives at the Library of Congress.
“I think he was one of our first musicians,” Ramey recalled. Local musician Clinton Collins started performing at Sisters as well. “They kind of came in and got the ball rolling. Nat was a great musician. Just generous with his talents and generous with sharing with people.”
Another musician who has performed at Sisters repeatedly, Greg Piccolo, has helped the coffee house celebrate its previous milestone anniversaries.
“He’s one of the musicians we had down on Mercer Street; and he came, if my memory’s right, and celebrated our 20th anniversary,” Ramey said. “He was one of Jane’s favorites. They hit it off and they loved each other, and we loved his music. He’s coming to help us celebrate our belated 25 years on June 2 starting around 7 o’clock, and we’ll have dinner and music.”
Music still plays regular role in the coffee house’s atmosphere.
“We have Jazz in the Afternoon every Friday from 12 to 2 (p.m.). The guys love to play,” she said. “They share their talents with us and play for tips and it’s become really nice. People will come and have lunch and enjoy it, so that’s become part of this.”
Clubs and local organizations meet at the coffee house regularly, often having breakfast or lunch at the same time.
“A lot of groups and clubs over the years have continued coming and supporting us. It makes a nice stop for groups. It’s an intimate setting,” Ramey stated. “It’s comfortable. It’s homey. We have a lot of people that utilize this space. We love them and we’ve become family with most of them. Everybody knows everybody and your name.”
One of the sisters’ goals was to create a place where people can relax and literally feel at home.
“We don’t want a sterile environment. We want a place where somebody can come in and think, ‘Oh, I can breathe. I can rest.’ People have told me this is my oasis where I can come. You give me the quiet corner and chill out,” she said. “Everything seems to be so fast and one of the things and Jane and I determined to do is create an atmosphere when you come here you can slow down. We don’t anyone to ever think they have to be in a hurry or they need the table, I’m going to get up and move. We just want you to come and rest.
“It’s like you come in and take a breath and let go of everything,” Ramey concluded. “I think this is what we do, what we’ve created. I hope that’s what it does.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com
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