Jaco’s Corner, the 104-year-old bar in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium, is likely to pour its last beer this summer. The Jaco family, which has owned the Olympia neighborhood bar at Rosewood Drive and Bluff Road for three generations, is reluctantly being pushed toward the sale by financial and generational realities.
By Conor Hughes
March 23, 2016
Jaco’s Corner, the favored watering hole of mill workers, carnies and college students alike for over a century, is likely to close its doors this June, its owners say.
Jaco’s, at Bluff Road and Rosewood Drive, first went on the market in 2007. Then the economy crashed. And siblings Jake and Janet Jaco remained reluctant to sell.
Janet Jaco said a serious buyer has drawn up a contract. But, with a wisp of that reluctance still showing, she was also quick to point out that nothing has been signed yet.
“Even though the end is soon to come, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” she said.
From the outside, Jaco’s looks less like a pub and more like a house, complete with a front porch and swinging screen doors. Inside, the walls are lined with posters, knick-knacks and family photos from throughout the bar’s history.
Janet Jaco has a lifetime of memories at Jaco’s Corner - one of her most vivid is getting married in its backyard underneath a pear tree.
“We planned it on Wednesday, got married on Sunday, and 150 people showed up and we never invited anybody,” she said. “We just told people about it, word of mouth.”
For Paul Sexton, who said he has been a regular at Jaco’s Corner since 1969, the sale would mark the end of an era.
“It’s just a place I’ve been hanging around, well, all my life,” Sexton said. “I don’t know where we’ll all hang out. Each other’s front porch, I guess.”
Three generations of the Jaco family have owned the bar since 1912, when Harris and Alberta Jaco, Jake and Janet’s grandparents, first set up shop.
But the complication of passing it on to yet another generation is one reason for the sale.
“You would have to quarter it,” said Zak Taylor, Janet Jaco’s son and one of the managers. “There was just no equitable way for everything to be divided up, unfortunately.”
Then there are the economic realities. Jaco’s sits on 1.34 acres in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium. On game days, the site, which is being offered for $1.3 million, according to the sales listing, is surrounded by a sea of people. The State Fairgrounds is across the street. And even when nothing else is going on, Bluff and Rosewood is one of the city’s busiest intersections.
“We do all right here, but if we did that well, we’d all be retired and we’re not,” Taylor said. “Jaco’s doesn’t really provide a 401K.”
“Nobody, in spirit, wants to sell the place. It’s just you kind of know you have to. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid,” he said.
These problems are common for small businesses, said Maxey Love, a consultant for the Service Corps of Retired Executives Foundation that specializes in helping those businesses.
“For lots of folks who go into business, part of their business plan is how they get out of business,” Love said. “Part of optimizing the value of that business is trying to sell it before an opportunity passes, unless it was going to be inherited.”
In addition, Love said, the property may have become too commercially valuable for a bar the size of Jaco’s which, according to another real estate listing that Taylor confirmed, grosses about $250,000 a year.
This idea is echoed in one of the property’s online listings.
“This lighted interchange site is poised for incredible volume,” it says. “Just thinking about it’ll get you drunk. Or… it could be a hell of a Walgreen’s.”
But Whit Suber, the property’s listing agent, said the plans are more in keeping with the property’s history than with a Walgreen’s.
He said the prospective buyer, Columbia lawyer Tom Hall, intends to preserve what he can of the Jaco’s legacy while creating a large place for live music, what Suber called “a beer, band and barbeque concept.”
“The plan absolutely entails maintaining a significant portion of what’s there,” Suber said. “One of the things that’s special about Jaco’s is its history.”
Hall said he did not want to discuss his plans until the sale closes.
Even if he manages to preserve much of what is there, it won’t be easy for the Jacos. Janet, Jake and their children grew up in the bar and have a deep personal attachment to it.
“When I was born, I went to the bar before I went home from the hospital,” Taylor said. “Since I was born, I’ve been on this bar stool.”
Tears begin brimming in Janet Jaco’s eyes.
“I consider this place, this bar, as my best friend, beside my family,” she said. “Not the building, but the people.”
And for many of those people who have frequented Jaco’s for decades, it’s the same.
“We’ve got friends that moved to other states, and when they come to town, they don’t know where everybody lives and they come here to check on things,” said A.J. Sexton, who said he has been going to Jaco’s since the early 1970s.
Robert Bradley, who calls it “the bar they built the stadium next to,” said it was the friendly atmosphere and Southern roots that drew him in when he moved to Columbia five years ago.
“This place is a tradition,” he said. “When this place does sell off, it’s gone. There’s no more.”