Walking Away…With No Regrets

It was quite a shock, no, it was akin to witnessing an underdog punching out a champion with a TKO so hard, it’s still unfathomable to explain.

On Sunday afternoon, Mars Cafe, the indelible risk-taking and fun-loving coffee shop that anchored the revitalization of the Drake University business neighborhood, announced that August 18th will be their final day of operation.

Larry and Jennifer James (Metromix/Des Moines Register)

For the locals in Des Moines, it feels like a death-blow to the psyche of everything local.  For six years, Mars Cafe carved an identity that made customers fiercely loyal, a refuge for students at Drake to study, and first dates were held.

It also fostered something special:  a creative community that launched many ideas from inside the cool, relaxed interactive place on University Avenue.

Companies like BitMethod and Dwolla not only asked Mars Cafe to take a chance on some of their ideas, but in true Mars Cafe style, the owners and the staff of Mars bounced off ideas to both companies and to many others.

How many places would take a chance to help create new ways to make financial transactions easier without all of the hassle of fees, waiting times, and other red tape stuff that our current financial systems are still mired in?

How many places would allow musical groups from different genres to perform there and support them?

How many places would have one of their owners or employees dress up like Yuri Gargarin in an astronaut suit and dance with the crowd on a summer night?

And how many places would inspire a hack blogger to come up with topics to write about with clarity and prose?

Mars Cafe, that’s who.

The decision to close up shop may have been difficult, but then again I’m not in Larry James’ shoes.  Larry, his wife Jennifer, brother Phil and his wife Nicole, opened Mars Cafe in 2006.  I’ve known all four for a few years before taking the plunge to open a place that spearheaded the clarion call that “Dogtown” (sorry Cusack, but that’s what the locals still affectionately call the neighborhood) is a “cool place to hang out” at.

While the majority are sad and offering suggestions on how to keep Mars going, I gained a sense of peace with Mars closing.  And it’s alright.  After all, Larry’s reasons were simple:  with his full-time career in law and his family growing up in front of his eyes, it was a good time to do it.  It wasn’t a failure by any means.  The James’ took a risk, ran with it, and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

What no other way than to go out on top.  And that’s what they are doing.  Leaving while they are still the best and at the height of their popularity.

Mars is not alone.  Being There Coffee in Altoona is closing, Baby Boomers said farewell not too long ago, and Metropolitan Properties will dissolve, but not after Jodi Beavers and Leslie Gearhart can look back at their accomplishments in what they did to save several historical properties and make them livable again.

For me, a certain guy who was born in Corning, Iowa comes to mind as I write this.  On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the final time.  A year earlier, he announced that he was stepping down, to the mass dismay of Americans.

Viewers and fans kept asking why would Johnny walk away from an empire:  the #1 show on late night and overall on television, worldwide fame, among other things.

Carson’s reasoning was simple:  he achieved everything he wanted.  It was time to move on.

Who could blame Johnny?  Who could blame Larry, Jodi, Leslie, and the others?

If you can walk away from doing something, with a smile and no regrets, then you know you were successful.

What a hell of a ride, Mars Cafe.

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