Johnson City says farewell to local staple, the Acoustic Coffeehouse

Hannah Swayze • Dec 31, 2017 at 2:06 PM

When one year fades into another Sunday night, the music at a well-known West Walnut Street venue will fade into silence.

Acoustic Coffeehouse owner Jim Benelisha announced Saturday morning that New Year’s Eve would be the last day of business for the local coffeehouse and music venue.

"It's overwhelming," Benelisha said about the reactions he received after announcing the news on Facebook.

Sometimes referred to by patrons as the "Coho," the Acoustic Coffeehouse — a coffee shop and bar with constant live music — has been open since 2003.

"One of the most commonly heard things that I've heard people say is that it felt like their living room. You know, for all the students that lived in apartments ... the coffeehouse was their place to come to and hang out, because it felt like their home," said Benelisha.

The 66-year-old Benelisha said he is selling the property largely because of his age. And having recently married a woman who lives in Santa Cruz, California, he will be moving to California and retiring there.

"I've hoped that somebody else would come along and want to take the responsibility of it,” he said,  “but I've known that I didn't want to get older and maybe start losing my health and still have to try to run that place and keep up with it."

It was sort of an unexpected turn of events that led to Benelisha's opening of the Acoustic Coffeehouse.

After having been in business for more than 22 years with Jim's Tri-City Appliance, he wanted out. So he sold it and bought another property.

That property was three buildings at 415 W. Walnut St. One was a laundromat, which he rebuilt first. Another right beside it would become the Acoustic Coffeehouse.

"The other space was sitting there empty and I had to figure out what to do with it, and this idea for the coffeehouse slowly kind of came about and took shape,” He said.

“And I talked myself out of it several times, because it seemed like a huge undertaking."

Benelisha said Acoustic Coffeehouse was a success from the beginning, recalling that people were  waiting outside the doors to come in when it first opened.

It was different than other bars in the downtown area: there was no smoking indoors, and it offered live music — according to Benelisha, the only other music venue was The Down Home.

"It really became like an opportunity for me to do something that had meaning in my life. It meant I could have a place where people could come together and communicate and share conversation and all this. And so, it really worked out beyond my wildest dreams," he said.

A musician himself, Benelisha knew he wanted to have live music. With so much musical talent in the Tree Street, he wanted not only to have an open mic, but provide a place where musicians who had never played in public could come and perform.

Eventually he received enough emails from new and old musicians that he was able to book music almost every night of the week.

But now that Benelisha is older, he says he’s ready to move on.

"I'll miss it. I'll miss the people. All of the people that I've known, but I don't think I'm going to have any regrets,” he said. “You know, things just run their course and so, you know, I'm looking forward to the next part of my life."

The last night of business will be the Acoustic Coffeehouse’s New Year's Eve party. Rhythm and the Roosevelts will begin its show at 10 p.m.

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