Downtown Ashvegas hero lost: Gold Hill in mourning

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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A downtown hero has been lost.

That’s the sentiment around the Gold Hill Espresso and Fine Teas shop on Haywood Street as more and more learn of the death of Michael “Alvy” Alvarez. Alvy apparently took his own life Wednesday.

Alvy left a suicide note, according to the police who are investigating.

Aside from all of that, Alvy was a wonderfully giving person who never turned anyone away at Gold Hill, which rose to its own fame for making some damn good coffee. Gold Hill was mentioned in several national magazines and newspapers for its laid back atmosphere, something Alvy certainly helped create. In 2001, a USA Today writer named Gold Hill one of the top 10 places in the nation for “caffeine and conversation.”

Alvy, who started as a Gold Hill worker and rose eventually to owner, would wave off charges for anyone who came in asking for a cuppa joe but couldn’t pay. He even waved off some of his regulars from time to time. He was just that kind of guy.

The one time I went knocking on his door, Alvy came out from the back of the shop in his usual attire – bearded and in sandals, cap and probably some type of hemp clothing. I was asking for a gift certificate to give away as part of a United Way fundraiser I was working on.

Without question, Alvy shuffled back and wrote me out a $25 gift certificate. I thanked him and moved on.

On a lighter note, one friend remembered some of the celebrities Alvy had served over the years. James Garner and Jack Lemmon were two who stopped by between takes filming “My Fellow Americans.”

William Shatner was another. Old Capt. Kirk himself was trying to keep a low profile, but he dropped in and loved the coffee. Alvie excitedly told a friend about the visit. But Alvy, how did you know it was Shatner? Alvy smiled and slowly withdrew a credit card from his pocket. “Because I’ve got his VISA card right here,” he said.

But that was pure Alvy, giving and giving in small ways, always. He never asked, just gave.

So he left us with a question – why?

If you can, stop by and pay your respects. The shop is closed, but people are leaving flowers and notes, and just stopping by to sit on the bench out front. We’ve lost a giving soul.

Alvy, if you’d only asked.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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