Lexington Rescue Mission's coffee shop is an extension of its outreach programs

The Gathering Place, located inside the Lexington Rescue Mission thrift store, doesn't serve lattes, but it does offer a place to connect with friends.
The Gathering Place, located inside the Lexington Rescue Mission thrift store, doesn't serve lattes, but it does offer a place to connect with friends. Herald-Leader

In the North Limestone area, there's an almost audible hum: Call it a neighborhood on the verge, with the Lexington Rescue Mission's thrift store, artisan bazaar and coffee house under one big blue roof on Bryan Avenue.

Bullhorn Media, led by North Limestone revialization pioneer Griffin VanMeter, is a stone's throw away. Nearby Al's Bar has found its niche between neighborhood center and city meeting place, as have the chunky pastries at North Lime Coffee & Donuts.

Houses are being snapped up in neighboring Castlewood, where the neighborhood association maintains an active Facebook presence.

In the midst of this is the Lexington Rescue Mission's thrift store/coffee house, at 520 Bryan Ave., in the shade of a building where Lexington's energy needs of previous decades were served with items such as "fire brick," the advertisement of which still towers over the North Limestone corridor.

And at one end of the Lexington Rescue Mission store is a coffee shop called The Gathering Place. It first opened two years ago, and re-opened on Nov. 7.

Outside the muralist Odeith was found on a recent sunny afternoon painting huge horses on the side of the building that faces the railroad.

The Gathering Place serves plain coffee at $1.50 a cup, sodas and energy drinks for $1.60, packaged snacks and good conversation, but if you want something latte'd with foam art, this may not be your kind of place. It's more of a neighborhood forum that hosts Bible studies, a group associated with the Fatherhood Initiative and sometimes fashion show makeovers for the Lexington Rescue Mission, a Christian emergency relief and rehabilitation center.

"We don't do the frou-frou coffees," said Vince Meccariello, associate director of the Lexington Rescue Mission.

The Bazaar next door provides bridge employment and vocational training for clients who are trying to find permanent work, and, at the same time, supports local artists. Then there's the thrift shop itself, where if you've got $20, you've got a bunch of deals.

It's a lot of activity under a single roof.

"It's a really unique neighborhood," said Meccariello, a longtime resident of North Lexington himself and owner of a business services company. "We put together a focus group of leaders from the neighborhood. That's where this was hatched."

In October, the coffee house hosted a Motown review for a neighborhood street fair. It will also participate in another neighborhood project, the NoLi "night market," coming up on Nov. 22.

"I don't expect to live off the profit, but it's not all about the profit," Meccariello said. "And it supports the ministry of the mission."

The Gathering Place is delightful to look at — with a kind of funky grandeur that was entirely created by the judicious curating of donated items. It looks like the kind of place Auntie Mame might have coffee with Don Draper. One wall is covered with a bird-themed mural painted by an Americorps volunteer artist.

It provides a place for all the area's residents, including some clients of the Rescue Mission, to sit for a bit while networking, making friends or simply getting off the street. Groups can meet there, too, and the Rescue Mission has staged a Dress For Success workshop there for their clients.

"We wanted it to be a place where the neighborhood gathers," said Mark Kurtz, director of employment services for the Rescue Mission.

The coffee house has its mind more on civic engagement than on profit, Meccariello said. And while he wants to sell fresh coffee, he doesn't mind "if at the end of the life cycle I have to give the coffee away."

The coffee house is an extension of the Rescue Mission's job, which is helping Lexington's citizens living on the margins to hone their skills — teaching them to write resumes and learn job interview skills — and providing them with a work wardrobe.

One tiny woman the mission was working with came in to the store dressed in clothing much too large for her, Kurtz said. Once outfitted at the thrift store, she came out of the dressing room "looking like a runway model," he said.

As the North Limestone area of Lexington continues its transformation — it's called NoLi, now — the change is bringing variety and new opportunities.

"It's a great little section," said VanMeter, the spiritual godfather of the renaissance of the area where the Lexington Rescue Mission store is located. "One success of the night market is to give people a reason to explore these businesses."

NoLi "night markets"

Pop-up markets in the North Limestone area of Bryan Avenue between North Limestone and Loudon Avenue will be held 7-10 p.m. Nov. 22 and Dec. 13.