A formerly unlikely block on the southeastern edge of Little Haiti is set to become a playground of sorts for Miami's slowly expanding underground culture. Churchill's has long been holding it down punk rock-style on the corner of NE Second Avenue and 55th Street. Next door a new turquoise-and-purple-stripe awning heralds a new neighbor: Sweat Records, which has moved out of its former temporary digs in the back of the club and into its own bigger, bad-ass space. A wide, airy spot, the store is being retooled as a source for the best music, but also as a lifestyle shop and hangout — complete with coffee bar. Hallelujah! Finally somewhere to comfortably loiter during the day — and an alternative to Starbucks, to boot!
The new space will pleasantly surprise anyone familiar with Sweat's former digs. Version 1.0 opened in the spring of 2005, in a storefront farther down the avenue, on 23rd Street. But damage from various hurricanes the same year forced the operation into a spot at the back of Churchill's, in an annex off the patio. Quarters were cramped — and intensely hot — but still cheerful, with an eclectic mix of customers pawing used vinyl and designer toys while book clubs gathered on benches outside.
Still, tireless 25-year-old owner Lauren "Lolo" Reskin was just waiting it out until the coveted next-door storefront, part of a strip of warehouses adjoining Churchill's, opened up. "The space inside Churchill's was always supposed to be temporary," Reskin says. "So we sat and waited."
Besides a new venue, Reskin also has a new partner in the venture. (Cofounder emeritus, Sara Yousuf, has gone on to a successful career as a public defender.) She has recruited her best friend, Jason Jimenez, a transplant from the Chicago suburbs. His mellow, Jesus look-alike shagginess matches his most recent occupation as a massage therapist, but belies the organizational and management skills he picked up in his former life as a Marine.
"We had similar ideas of what we wanted to do," Jimenez says. "The main thing is there's not a lot of meeting places. We all see each other around at night all the time, but there is nowhere to really gather during the day."
So they're creating one. Reskin and Jimenez have overseen complete renovations. The new store extends across the building's entire NE Second Avenue side, with plenty of windows, soothing mint green walls, and a shiny dark purple floor. With gleaming, modular fixtures (vintage Sputnik chandeliers, white cubes), the whole thing has a retro-futuristic feel.
A small stage for in-store performances takes up the far corner, next to a couple of easily accessible bathrooms (yay). Along the center of the walls will be the meat of the stock, the record bins. But in the middle comes the expanded part, a sort of cool-stuff boutique featuring products by a who's who of artsy Miami. "We want it to be the gift shop for underground Miami," says Reskin. Murals by artists like LEBO and AHOLSNIFFSGLUE, among others, will festoon the upper reaches of the walls. And a collective of marine biologists and artists is creating a special saltwater fish tank with a theme based on the Talking Heads song "Nothing but Flowers."
Another corner houses the coffee shop and snack bar, of which Reskin and Jimenez are especially proud. It'll be managed by a local musician, Jeffrey Remarkable, bassist of The JeanMarie. On hand will be plenty of "healthy junk food," with vegan options, of course. A range of unusual beverages include maté lattes and blooming teas (drop in your choice of satchel, and it appears to bloom, flowerlike). And for karma points: All the coffee is fair trade, every product is made of recycled material (which will be recycled again), and the entire place is lit with eco-friendly bulbs. There'll be free wi-fi, and customers are encouraged to hang out. Plus the background music will actually be good. Your local coffee chain can eat its Norah Jones-saturated, overpriced-milkshake heart out.
For the grand opening-night fete Friday, Reskin has assembled sponsors across the spectrum of grassroots, DIY Miami, even warring and elusive factions. Everyone, it seems, is rooting for the little indie store that could.
"Of course opening a business is always a risk. But I know this isn't going to be a risk," Reskin says. "We already have so much support from the community I know it's going to be a success."
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