John Cartwright didn’t know much about the Shoals eight years ago.
The Corinth, Miss., native took a leap of faith when he opened Rivertown Coffee Co. in downtown Florence in October 2004.
But what he’s found in the time since is a community that feels like home. It’s a community he said wants to see him succeed as much as he wants to succeed.
“This is a place, a population that supports independent local businesses,” Cartwright said. “We are growing, and part of that is there is an almost endless supply of creative ideas and people willing to take the risks to make those ideas happen.”
Cartwright’s story will be the first in a series of short films about the Shoals and the folks that give it life.
The series, titled “Made in the Shoals,” is the brainchild of local videographer Wes Wages who, like Cartwright, is a transplant. A Tupelo, Miss., native who came to the Shoals to attend the University of North Alabama, Wages’ job takes him throughout the world. But when it came to a place to call home for him and his wife, nothing beats the comfort of the Shoals.
“I work outside the area a lot telling other people’s stories,” Wages said before shooting the first film. “I wanted to do something that tells the stories of the place I live. You never really know about the Shoals until you’ve experienced it.
“The films, I hope, capture that experience.”
A crew of local filmmakers volunteered its time Tuesday to capture the first of those stories. The goal is to produce one film per month.
For the first film, the crew arrived at Rivertown when the sun was still sleeping, but after Cartwright’s day had already begun. He’s there by 5:30 a.m. to warm the ovens for the daily baked goods. The crew stayed during the morning rush, during the lunch rush and even followed Cartwright as he biked through the UNA campus to his home.
“At one point while filming, the whole place was full. There were businessmen, there were college students. There was so much diversity there,” Wages said. “It isn’t just a businessman’s coffee shop or a hipster’s coffee shop. It really felt like the community’s coffee shop.”
Entrepreneurs and other “creatives” will be featured, but the full lineup hasn’t been finalized.
“The Shoals is becoming a sort of start-up community,” Wages said. “If you look around, you see entrepreneurs choosing here to start their businesses or grow their ideas. I want to showcase that.”
The music in the film is local, too. The first film features “She’s Gonna Love Me” by Doc Dailey and Magnolia Devil, and “Hitchhiking” by The Bear.
Bradley Dean, art director for Billy Reid, is serving as creative director for the film series. That position, like all the rest, is a volunteer job, but the payoff comes in exposing the Shoals, Dean said.
“There is a rich history here,” he said. “And there is new energy that has come from noteworthy designers locating here and a musical tradition that is seeing a new life now. We want to put that energy into attracting more entrepreneurs and more creative thinkers.”
Cartwright’s story seemed to be the perfect fit.
“I’m not a businessman,” Cartwright said. “I never had any idea I’d own a business. I simply knew I liked working in coffee. I knew I wanted to do that in a downtown community in a college town.”
So far, that business plan has been a success.