Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Losing Coffee Ground

The coffee shop in my village will close in December. There’s already a sign on the door with a new schedule; it is only open from noon to early evening from now until it closes.

This saddens me. This shop has been open a little over a year. I have not been the most regular of customers, occasionally stopping for a coffee and a muffin on my way to work. The food business is a low-margin affair, it’s tough to make much money on coffee, juices, muffins and cookies. The baked goods were made on premises, and they kept their volume low. They sold trays of muffins or cookies for events and gatherings, but they didn’t seem to publicize that very widely.

Danielle, one of the owners, is expecting their first child any day now. She was the perfect greeter and hostess – big smile, positive personality, always asked how you were doing.

They had music on many nights, even had a CD release party for a local artist. They held Open Mic a couple times a month; Danielle would encourage me to come read because it might bring in a ‘different crowd’. I assume she was referring to the number of 20-30-somethings that generally attended their music events.

Espresso Therapy becomes another mark on the loss side of the village ledger: the unique, singular purveyor that provides not just coffee and muffins, but a place to gather – a place to be a community. Those young adults had a place to come together, to support each other, to enjoy music, to celebrate success, to share experiences.

Such places get subsumed by the commoditization of our retail stores. A Dunkin Donuts is two blocks in one direction down the street, capturing any cars that enter or exit the village at the bridge. Another DD is two miles in the other direction, sitting at the end of the interstate that loops around the village. The prices are not much different from the coffee shop; but it is tough to compete with mass advertising and blunt familiarity brought about by ubiquity.

Every population center in this country begins to look the same. Home Depot and Loews build multiple stores within a few miles of each other. WalMart parking lots, if strung together, would easily be a 51st state. CostCo, Sam’s Club, Dick’s, Sears can all be found on the edge of any town in nearly every state. The mall outside Denver looks just like the mall outside Albany.

We lose our community identity, the unique elements of place that provides subtle differences in our culture and society, when our physical community starts to look the same as our neighbor’s.

This is not to say that all our suburban or village singularities are gone. My village still has a small downtown diner. We have a single-screen theatre that shows movies for a reasonable ticket, just before they hit the Netflix circuit. There are three downtown restaurants that are not part of any franchise, have no exact replica anywhere else.

I don’t intend to over-romanticize the theme. We have been told for the past dozen years that we consumers are the driver of the economy – and the major retailers are perfectly happy to provide familiar, comfortable territory in which to spend our money. We asked for this convenience.

Espresso Therapy got lost in the process.

No comments: