What is an Independent Coffee Shop? It’s a Small Local Business that’s hurting, like all the rest, and like all the rest, a source of hope for their community.
By Robert Simmons
Every small community has at least one independently owned local coffee shop. Our area is no exception.
In 2019 B.C. (Before Covid), the shop boasted an eclectic mix of young and old “regulars”: local college students would diligently study alone or in groups; colorful seniors would discuss current events, play “Go” and chess, or (pencils in hand) tackle the Times Sunday crossword puzzle, with an occasional assist from a familiar passerby. Several seemed to be running their businesses straight out of the coffee shop: AA counselors, real estate agents, bloggers, web designers, even financial advisors. The shop had a separate back room, where everything from AA meetings to comedy shows were held. The line to get coffee, prior to these meetings, was always “out the door”, but the coffee crew managed to get everyone through the line quickly while maintaining the easy-going atmosphere customers came to expect.
Norma and Cassidy ran the shop back then. Norma had a homemade jewelry business on the side, and Bernie, the shop owner, allowed Norma to run this little pop-up business each day after her morning shift was finished. Cassidy, the quintessential people person, gave the place “personality”; she would charm the seniors and spoil the regulars, hand-delivering them drinks and listening intently to whatever was on their minds that particular day.
Again, that was Before Covid. Many local businesses have suffered since that time, and our coffee shop was no exception.
Norma moved on during the first closing in March 2020. Cassidy, whose compromised immune system put her in a high risk category, decided to isolate until a vaccine was available, leaving the management role to Makayla. Once the coffee shop was allowed to reopen the first time, it began serving drinks out an open side window. Bernie divided the reduced eight-hour day into two four-hour shifts comprising two employees each; one worked the window while the other prepared the drinks. Makayla, Anthony, Vanna, Katie and Lindy all stayed on to cover these shifts.
Lindy, the veteran of the group, has seen a lot happen in the community over the past 9 months.
“We are inundated each day with people who are feeling a sense of hopelessness. This last shutdown was super heavy for a lot of people. Their money is running out, and the constant opening and closing creates so much instability; because there is no date for when this is going to end, it’s hard to stop these hopeless feelings from creeping in.”
Anthony, no stranger to working several jobs, has managed to keep two going throughout the pandemic. Vanna, who left the coffee shop in 2019 to become a hair stylist, was forced to come back when salons were ordered to close through much of the summer. Katie, the creative one of the group, managed to bring in extra cash selling artsy covid masks at the shop window, as well as online through instagram.
Lindy is just happy to have this one job right now. “I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs. Thankfully, my landlord has lowered my rent during this period, so I can afford to keep my apartment.”
She tells a story of one couple she knows: both were let go from their jobs when a prominent restaurant in our area was forced to close down in May. To get by, they quickly learned to sew, and now, like Katy, sell masks within the community, to make whatever cash they can. The rival coffee shop down the block went under, as well as a small bar; the hair salon where Vanna worked was forced to close because the owner decided to sell the building.
These people represent the minimum wage workers in our communities, who must often work two or even three jobs to afford the high cost of living; meanwhile, they are the first to feel the strain whenever the economy turns unstable. Coffee shops provide so much to the people in a community. Bernie, throughout the shutdown, has offered a program of affordable meals to his customers, many of whom are retired, or are students with minimum wage jobs themselves; some battle with mental health issues, like the AA groups who met regularly prior to the shutdown. The meals can be ordered each day for pick up.
Makayla recently started a “paper chain” to hang inside the shop, now that customers are allowed to come in and order “to go”. People were asked to find something positive to write on their paper “link”, in order to raise the spirits of the community. Within four days, the chain was well on its way. As one might have predicted, many of the comments were about how important the coffee shop, and more precisely, the workers, were to the community; they brought all of us much more than coffee and pastries; they brought us social inclusivity in an extremely isolating time.
If The Third Option plan had been in place, so much of this hardship would have been avoided. Their plan is specifically designed to reach down directly into every Community. By placing a National Public Bank in each neighborhood of 100,000 people, funds are instantly available for essential needs like healthcare, food, utilities, housing, even assistance for small business, whether through loans or other means. This is because National Banks are funded by people, for people, so paying back any loan makes money for the entire community. In this way, all fates are tied together; every one wants to see each citizen or small business succeed. In times of crisis like this, a Public Bank could suspend loan payments for as long as necessary, provide needed cash, keep small businesses afloat, pause house mortgage payments, supplement both physical and mental healthcare; in short, provide a complete economic backstop beyond anything the private sector could ever offer.
Keep an eye out for more on how communities like yours can benefit from all that The Third Option proposes.