Normally the Corner Café in Wewahitchka locks its doors by 2 p.m., but it stayed open well past dark last Thursday.
There, in booths and tables pushed against the walls to promote better conversation, locals gathered and snacked on Goldfish crackers – eager to discuss the future of the past.
They’ve been meeting here once a month since Ann Johnson, who owns the café with husband Mitchell, posted to Facebook looking for other Wewa residents with a sense of pride in their history. The café became a place for them to strategize.
“The Historical Group has a list of projects that we are working on,” Ann said, “discovering the history in our area on beekeeping, church history, cemeteries, fish camps, railroad, riverboats, saw and grist mills, turpentine stills, early newspapers, the town of Iola and the Courthouse Project.”
Members come to the café with their ideas. Their discussions paint a vision of a future Wewahitchka – one with plaques, museums, walking tours and beautifully restored structures.
To accomplish those goals, the group is looking to make their gatherings more official.
“We’ve just kind of been meeting and enjoying it,” Ann said. “But I guess in order to get donations, and funds and stuff that we’re going to be needing, we have to be more organized.”
They took a hiatus from their usual spirited banter to hear Mitchell break down their options. He has a history of business ownership and law, and the group were eager to break down the requirements of his recommendation – register the group as a Limited Liability Corporation.
It’s an unusual move for a non-profit organization, Mitchell pointed out, but perfectly legal as long as the organization meets the other requirements. While the majority of non-profits are registered as corporations, he believed the lower filing cost and shorter application process would benefit the new historical group.
“It is a good tax benefit for both small businesses and nonprofit organizations alike,” Mitchell said. “It’s just so much detail with setting up a corporation, and you kind of want to avoid that when you have less than 50 (people).”
There were many questions from the group.
What did the other options look like? How much would it cost? What did other historical groups do? When could the group become a 501(c)3? And, above all else, what would this mean for the future of their gatherings?
"Mitchell, registering as an LLC, that is your recommendation, correct?” said Tom Godwin, halting conversation as he stood to address the room.
“Yes,” Mitchell responded. “Yes, it is.”
Godwin dug into his pocket and produced a worn leather wallet from which he withdrew the money required to register the organization in cash. He addressed the room again, and the decision was made.
“In honor of my late wife.”
As members filed out of the café, grabbing refreshments for the road, a sense of accomplishment hung in the empty café like one of the framed photos on the walls. The group had not ironed out all the kinks. But they were closer to serving the purpose in the community that Ann had seen when she took to social media four months ago.
“I realized that a lot of our older people that know things had passed on, and we just don’t have a regular way of getting the information to each other,” she said. “And our children are growing up here. They grew up in Wewa, but they don’t know any of our old history.”
“We’re trying to get more community involvement and just to get people to take pride in what we have, and build on that and learn more about our history... I think once we get our little group going, we’ll make some positive steps in that direction.”
One day, the group hopes to move meetings into a restored historical building. But for now, the Johnsons say they are happy to host and hope to see the group continue to grow.