In the winter of 1997, Yvonne Dougherty rose early every morning to drive her son Peyton to Staples swim team practice.
On the way back she’d stop by Juba’s — the coffee shop in Peter’s Bridge Market, near her home — for a jolt of caffeine to start the day.
Then she got a job there. It paid $7.50 an hour — but she quickly fell in love with the coffee business.
On September 11, 2000 she took over Juba’s lease. For an investment of just a few thousand dollars, she had a steady business. She took in $900 a day, with virtually no overhead.
Three and a half years later, the new owners of Peter’s Bridge “threw me out,” she says.
In less than a month, she opened a new place in a former boating just across Riverside Avenue.
Yvonne called it Doc’s, in honor of her last name — pronounced “Dockerty.”
Her landlord — Sam Gault — was “phenomenal,” she says. He kept her rent low, and helped any way he could. He told her she could probably stay for 2 or 3 years.
Yvonne spent plenty of money — $250,000, she estimates — complying with town regulations. She had to change the parking lot, and put in a sidewalk.
But customers — including, importantly, many commuters — loved Doc’s. For much of the decade, she averaged $1,500 a day.
Then the economy tanked. Starting in the fall of 2008, business tailed off precipitously. The opening of a similar place — Cocoa Michelle — closer to the train station may also have hurt.
A year ago, construction began on the Saugatuck redevelopment project. Winter — always slow — was particularly harsh. Between road closures on Riverside Avenue, bad weather that kept people home, and uncertainty about whether Doc’s would stay open, business dropped 30 to 40 percent.
(Interestingly, Yvonne says, the new Dunkin’ Donuts at the site of the old Juba’s had no effect.)
Doc’s owner second-guesses herself for many of her problems.
“Even though I have an MBA from the University of Virgina — back in the Stone Age — I didn’t have a clue to market Doc’s. Or even brand it,” she says.
“I missed the opportunity to be on the web. And I could have rented out this place for parties more than I did.”
Yvonne adds, “When someone walks in your shop, they have to know what you’re selling. I’ve got lots of tchotchkes here, but I think they distract people. Some of my charm came back to bite me in the butt.”
Starbucks, she says, “may be sterile and boring. But you know what they’re selling.”
With close to 2,000 square feet — 10 times her space at Juba’s — she says, “It was probably too much.”
Yvonne adds, “I was a one-woman show. I learned you have to work on your business, not in it.”
The 2nd phase of Saugatuck’s redevelopment starts soon. A retail/residential/office mix will replace the buildings in and around Ketchum Street — including Yvonne’s.
Doc’s last day is November 12.
“I wish I had a plan for what’s next,” Yvonne says. She’s found a potential location in Southport — but she needs a partner.
Perhaps, she says, she can open Doc’s as a smaller space inside existing stores — the way she started, with Juba’s inside Peter’s Bridge.
But Peter’s Bridge is gone, and Yvonne can’t think of any other place in town that make sense. “That’s my challenge — to find something that works,” she says.
She will miss her customers. Many have been very loyal.
“I see people in town, and I think, ‘that’s a medium latte,” she says. “That’s a pretty bizarre skill.”
Meanwhile, the clock ticks for Doc’s.
“I’ve got to figure out something soon,” Yvonne says.