Good Neighbor: Charity Martin-Via

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Several years ago, working a desk job and grieving the loss of her stepfather and best friend, Charity Martin-Via realized she couldn't go back.

Not back to the grind. Not back to the same old situation. Not to a life where she would constantly wonder what it all means.

Her close-knit family had always taught her to run faster, be better and never give up, so she realized something more was worth fighting for. At the breaking point, she sought solace in the things she loved - art and dialogue, social justice and coffee - and decided to bring them together under one roof.

"We were all at dinner, and I told my family, 'I'm done. I quit,'" she said, recalling her decision to step out. "I'm doing what I want to do."

In February 2008, her finger bearing a silver band that reads "courage," she opened Urban-Spirit Coffee Shop, a java house and art gallery in a building that once housed the first black-owned hospital in Central Ohio.

Located just east of the historic Lincoln Theatre, which reopened in May, her business lies at the heart of the revitalization efforts happening on the Near East Side. It's already a crucial part of what the neighborhood could become again.

"People have to take that leap in entrepreneurship, especially in these economic times," she said. "We have to seek to be continuously relevant to a changing neighborhood."

To that end, Martin-Via has tapped into the history, artistic talent and grassroots vibrancy now being rediscovered throughout the King-Lincoln District.

Her Loft Gallery upstairs displays diverse exhibits promoting community empowerment and economic development. The coffee shop on the first floor hosts regular poetry nights, mixers and special events - and invites locals to come in and share their thoughts.

"One of this district's treasures is its diversity on all levels," Martin-Via added. "We're all trying to work together in the district to find out, how do we keep this momentum going?"