A cup of coffee, helpful words with friends, and assistance with benefits for veterans

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - It's a coffee shop, but one with a unique character and clientele.

The Frontier Coffee Shop in Salisbury is the latest place to honor veterans in our area with hours for free coffee and doughnuts, but this one is even more unique because of where it's located and who it will soon be getting for a neighbor.

It's inside a restaurant in what used to be the Salisbury Mall.

Rowan County Commissioners bought the mall for more than $3 million last year and will use it with a combination of retail and public service tenants, and in this case, there's a combination that should be a big benefit for local veterans.

On Tuesday more than one hundred veterans gathered around coffee tables and a bar, and what looked like old friends just swapping stories was actually something much deeper.

"You might have a World War II veteran and an Afghanistan veteran, they have a common bond, they can relate with each other and they understand the experiences and they can help each other," Said Rick Johnson of the county's Veterans Services Office.  "Most of the time the best treatment for PTSD is just talking about it, but you can't really get veterans to talk outside of other veterans it's very difficult."

Local veterans gathered at the new Frontier Coffee Shop inside Thelma's Down Home Cooking in the old Salisbury Mall on Tuesday.

The mall is now county property and it's called the West End Plaza.

Restaurant owner Thelma Luckey, who served more than 20 years in the Army wanted to give back to all those who have served, and she was overjoyed that so many turned out today.

"I was overwhelmed today," Luckey told WBTV.  "I had to have a tear of joy, it was just overwhelming for me."

Luckey is a retired Staff Sergeant of the 846th Transportation Company and served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990-91.

Tom Harrell, the former owner of WSTP and WRDX Radio, and a veteran of the World War II China-Burma-India campaign helped coordinate the event.

"More than 12,000 veterans of Rowan County can serve both themselves and other veterans who visit the William G. Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center, which is in the front line for many of the 800,000 in North Carolina and others who come from nearby states," Harrell said.

But there's another element to this story, and it has to do with the controversial decision commissioners made to buy this mall.

Now, residents are getting the first look at what the county has in mind for it.  The Board of Elections will be moving in, and an old jewelry store will become the county's veteran's service office.

"We're going to be about a mile from the VA, we'll be right next to Thelma's and the coffee shop and it just gives nice central location for veterans to get services," Johnson added.

Veterans enjoying coffee, doughnuts, and camaraderie will soon be just a few steps from the county office and just over a mile from the VA hospital. 

Many in the crowd today like the idea, both of the coffee shop and the relocation of the office.

The coffee shop will serve free coffee and doughnuts to veterans every Tuesday from 9-11 am.

Thelma based her model on Richard's Coffee Shop, now known as "Welcome Home in Mooresville which has turned into an institution for local vets.