5 things you need to know about Cotton’s in Ensley, including Heritage Coffee (PHOTOS)

Cotton's building entrepreneurs
Josh Brenneman, Treś Washington and Donnetta Washington at Heritage Coffee. Isn’t Treś’ sweater fabulous? Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

On a rainy Thursday in Birmingham, I went over to Ensley to check out Heritage Coffee, in the old Cotton’s building, and was so glad I did. Keep reading to find out more about all the action that’s happening at Cotton’s these days, and why you should stop by and check it out.

1. For 90 years, between 1922 and 2012, Cotton’s was the place to get clothes in Ensley.

Cotton's back in the day
A lot of people used to work and shop at Cotton’s. Photo of a photo hanging on the wall between Heritage Coffee and Tres’ Fine Clothing. Photographer unknown

Back in 1922, my Dad’s best friend Bert Cotton’s parents Mitchell and Ida opened up Cotton’s, a clothing store in Ensley that employed—and served—three generations in that same spot.

Above is a faded picture that hangs on the wall between Heritage Coffee and Tres’ Fine Clothing downstairs, paying tribute to the long history of the building that still stands at 400 19th St in Ensley.

2. Two guys who used to work at a game shop decided to start their own businesses in the old Cotton’s building.

While their businesses are separate, Josh Brenneman and Treś Washington decided to share space in the old Cotton’s building in an arrangement that suits the longtime friends.

Sometimes, someone will come in looking for clothes and stay for a cup of coffee, and it works the opposite way, too.

Josh and Treś met a decade ago working at a game shop down the road (sadly, it’s now closed). They had such a good time and worked so well together that they decided to venture into their own businesses right next door to each other, sharing the same space.

3. Treś’ Fine Clothing needs to be on the go-to list for the well-dressed man.

Tres' Fine Clothing
At first glance this might look like the men’s department in a bigger store, but look again. Those lush 100-year old wooden floors, and vintage details throughout let you know you’re in a boutique store that blends old and new for a beautiful effect. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Years after Cotton’s closed in 2012, Treś Washington, a graduate of Ensley’s Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, continued the clothing tradition in the space with Tres’s Fine Clothing. And fine it is.

If I were a man who wanted to look Mayor Woodfin-level sharp, I can’t imagine going anywhere else. The things that struck me were the colors and the attention to detail.

Tres' Fine Clothing at Cotton's in Ensley
My husband and my kids both thought these ties looked awesome. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

I have no doubt that if you have an occasion where you aim to impress, you could walk into Tres’ not quite sure of yourself and walk out feeling like a million bucks.

Bonus: he does alterations for men and women’s clothing in the back of the store.

4. Heritage Coffee is way more than just a coffee shop.

Heritage Coffee in Ensley
“What can I get for you today?” Josh asked, right before he made me a king cake latte. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Josh Brenneman is a man with a vision. While you can certainly get a good cup of coffee or a bite to eat at Heritage Coffee, Josh really wants to create space for the community. When you hear a bit of his story, you’ll see why:

Next Step STORM
It’s not every day the story of a coffee shop starts with disaster relief. Graphic via Next Steps STORM’s Facebook page

“My family is really community-focused. Originally I’m from Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

God called us to the coast to do disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina, so we went to Gulfport, MS for two years, New Orleans for two years.

Come 2011, after the tornadoes, we moved up here and worked with people who couldn’t afford to fix their houses or were underinsured. We worked with connecting volunteers with survivors of natural disasters.

We have our own 501(c)(3) called Next Step STORM. We just had a group of 52 college students who came down to work with us and some different organizations in the city.

A lot of what we do (in between storms) is handicap ramps, working with people who can’t afford it otherwise.

We work with a lot of organizations that do the case work and we plug the volunteers in for construction projects.”

“It’s not about the project—it’s about the people.”

Heritage Coffee in Ensley
Look for the bright yellow door on the side of the building, if you’re looking for coffee. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

I don’t know about you, but I found that fascinating as a prelude to why a coffee shop in Ensley. The story continued:

“Like I said, my background is very community. We have a saying: ‘it’s not about the project—it’s about the people.’ Same thing with the coffee shop. I want to use the coffee shop as a vehicle to build comunity in this area. To provide a nice place where people can come down, get a coffee, hang out, play a board game, use the wifi, just to connect with each other.”

The shop’s been open now for two months, after consistently popping up at Gilmer Drug since 2017. They also had a mobile setup that’s now been retired to Josh’s kitchen. They did church events, office parties and more with that. He’s very happy to have a permanent home now.

While I was there, he made me a king cake latte which was super-tasty and warm on a chilly day.

Anyone who’s in or near Ensley needs to stop by and stay for a while.

5. Washington Law Firm is upstairs.

Washington Law, LLC
The office of Washington Law, LLC. Photo courtesy of Washington Law, LLC

Donnetta Washington, who’s married to Treś Washington, has had her own law practice upstairs on the second floor for almost two years now. She specializes in civil matters, including probate, family law, personal injury, contracts and more.

If you’re in need of a civil attorney, here are her deets:

Name: Donnetta Washington
Business: Washington Law, LLC
Address: 400 19th St Ensley suite 200 b, Birmingham, AL 35218

Washington Law LLC logo

6. The building’s occupants have a community-oriented vision for the space.

Gathering space at Cotton's in Ensley
Notice the refinished 100-year old wood floors. Now imagine filling this inviting space with a concert, a poetry reading, or a party. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Here are just a few of the plans John, Treś and Donnetta have for the old Cotton’s building:

  • coworking spaces
  • shared office space
  • meeting space
  • an outdoor courtyard
  • a bar

It’s exciting to see the energy young entrepreneurs are bringing to these old spaces, and it’ll be fun to watch their vision grow.

If you want to use the community space, give Donnetta Washington a call and she’ll hook you up: 205.706.2322.

Next time you’re out in Ensley, stop by the old Cotton’s building, right across from Gilmer Drug and The Bethesda, and down the street from the old Ramsay-McCormick building.

Grab a cup of coffee, take a look at the clothes and get to know the people who are bringing new life to this old iconic space. You’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, you can follow Heritage Coffee on Instagram @heritagecoffee.al and Treś’ Fine Clothing at @tresfineclothing.

Now tell us, Birmingham, have you been to Heritage Coffee or Treś’ Fine Clothing? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know.

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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