ALEXANDRIA, VA–After 25 years with St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, manager Will Nichols retires. On Saturday, July 31, the pub hosted a big bash to celebrate Will’s huge contribution to the community. With cakes and balloons and music and smiles and hugs, the atmosphere was not one of a retirement party, but rather a congratulations for all Will had accomplished over his quarter century with St. Elmo’s.
Not planning on retiring so soon, Will has chosen to step back from his managerial role to focus on his health. Stricken with neuropathy in his left knee, Will is set to attend physical therapy to gain strength and “try to get back to walking normally.” He would love to begin working remotely, exploring all the new avenues that lie ahead, and maybe perhaps one day return to work. “It’s a possibility,” Will says. “I don’t rule anything out.
When asked what he loved most about working at St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, Will answered with no hesitation, “The people. When I came up here, everyone was so nice. I thought, ‘Is this Mayberry?’”
Nora Partlow, former St. Elmo’s Owner, initially invited Will to work for her. “Nora and I first worked together at Bread and Chocolate,” says Will. “She called me up to work with her at St. Elmo’s. When they sold the one on King St. I was supposed to come up to Del Ray to work for two weeks to help them out… That stretched into twenty-five years. In my entire career this has probably been my favorite job I have to say, and it is because of the people.”
Nora, the customers, the Del Ray community, all those people feel the same way about Will. That is why current St. Elmo’s owners Larry and Christine Ponzi, along with community icon Pat Miller, started a Go Fund Me to support Will through his physical therapy and retirement. So far, $11,750 has been raised of the $15,000 goal.
“I was not expecting that,” stated Will when learning of the Go Fund Me. “When I took a look at it, I was beyond touched. I am so surprised and appreciative.”
Larry Ponzi says they started the Go Fund Me because, “He is a wonderful guy. He is a guy who you want to do whatever you can for him. With health issues, you never know what that is going to cost, so this was just the perfect opportunity. We knew that the community would rally behind him because everybody knows him and everybody has been his friend for so many years here.”
Of course Will’s absence as manager will be felt across town. Larry says of losing Will as an employee, “It is really hard because he is so much of St. Elmo’s. He is what people look for when they come in. His presence will definitely live on here and he will hopefully be visiting us a lot. If he can come back we would love to have him. I don’t want the word goodbye. I just think it’s something great that we can celebrate.
And celebrate they did. But Will’s role will not disappear; it will merely shift to one of patron. Larry’s daughter, Lisa, states, “He is St. Elmo’s. We are losing him as an employee but gaining him as a customer.”
Pat Miller agrees, adding, “He’ll be a Saturday morning regular, I’m sure.”
While Will’s retirement might have come sooner than expected, it is no surprise to anyone in Alexandria that the tight-knit Del Ray community came together for him as quickly and zealously as they did. And when he gets back to strength, if he should choose to return to the coffee pub, he will know the doors are always open.
To donate to Will’s Go Fund Me, click here.