Vinyl, Sweet Treats and A Tall Cup of Joe

A new face at SUNY New Paltz Farmers’ Market is bringing the warmth and community of coffee and music to campus.

On the day that Joe Davis graduated Corning Community College, a janitor whom he had befriended at the school invited Davis over to his house. To Davis’s surprise, the janitor, Pedro, sold him about 400 records for only $50.

Now that Davis has arrived at SUNY New Paltz as a third-year digital media production and psychology major, he is selling those records, along with the vinyl collection he has been building up his entire life.

“It shows you the power of connecting with someone,” Davis said. “Community is what it’s all about.”

Forming bonds with people through music is at the heart of Davis’s start-up business endeavor at SUNY New Paltz: Joe’s Java Jive.

At the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester, he approached farmers’ market manager Billie Golan with his vision to sell coffee, records and baked goods. 

“I’ve had coffee at the market in the past and I know its a big hit so I said ‘yes,’” Golan said. “[Davis] brings a wild energy, as well as the vinyl [records] which people like.”

Davis makes his $2 coffee and $1 baked goods known throughout the 5-hour market. He sells locally roasted coffee from Binghamton and Syracuse, along with fresh chocolate chip cookies, Fruity Pebble “Rice Crispy” treats and pumpkin bread. As people pass by he boldly beckons, “Everything’s a dollar! Dollar baked goods!” 

He sells his last package of two M&M cookies to a student that walks by. Not a moment later, he’s facing the other end of the table, apologetically telling someone that he can sell a certain record for no less than $45. While most records are only $2 or $5, there are some he simply cannot give up so easily.

“They’re usually about $5, and sometimes I’ll give away my favorite records for that reason because I have them here to play,” he said. “I sold a Cat Stevens greatest hits record and I’m still mourning the loss of it. But I’m generous. If somebody looks like they’ll really enjoy it, I want it in their hands.

“I’ve been collecting records my whole life at Salvation Armies and rummage sales across the country and ever since I started doing this, it feels like the reason I bought them was to sell them at this school. Vinyl are making a big comeback, and people enjoy looking through them. It starts conversations about music and I get to listen to Bob Dylan at my job. So I’m thankful to the school for giving me the opportunity to perform in this way.”

Davis was raised on music and plays ukulele, oud, piano, mandolin, banjo, guitar and harmonica. In his worldview, music is everything. 

“If there was anything to solve, anything to get world peace it would be music, Davis said. “It’s a universal language, it’s the one thing that connects people of different cultures.” These are the values that led him to start his business.

“Coffee shops in the ‘60s were a place for poets and musicians like Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsberg to be and to change lives,” he said. “There’s a long history of revolutionary coffee shops in this country and I want to be one of those and not one of the corporate enemies that is Starbucks and Dunkin’ [Donuts].”

He expresses another dream to travel to music festivals “on a school bus someday with performers and poets, this artistic force at the end of a bus looking outwards at an amazing group of people surrounding to experience it.”

“If the business fails, I’ll live in it,” he said.

As people stop to buy some sweet treats, Davis shares his ambitions to smiling, encouraging faces.

“It’s all about relationships,” he said. “You look someone in the eye, you remember their name, you make a joke, you ask them who they are, you’re already better than the competition.”

Davis also offers free coffee and treats to performers as a way of thanking them for their art.

In the future, he wishes to have performers—whether musicians, poets or comedians—perform on the rock beside his table at the market.

“I had weekly live music at the markets previously, but it’s hard to snag down weekly acts,” Golan said.

As the afternoon wound down, Davis sold out of all his inviting treats. He also sold $22 worth of records to fourth-year music major Chris Clancy. A few weeks earlier, Clancy and his friend bought records from Davis’s crates and mixed them.

“Isn’t that amazing about this community that some of these old records are so obscure that students take them and sample them into new, modern songs?” Davis said. “So it goes from a college janitor, to me, to another college student. Just like that.”