Thursday, August 18, 2011

The demise of the independent coffee shop

After three years without spending any substantial amount of time in the U.S., I am seeing things through fresh eyes. Again.

One of my first destinations upon returning to town was my favourite little independently-owned coffee shop in Northern VA. It's a cozy joint with old overstuffed sofas, rickety chairs painted in pastel colours, mighty good coffee with cheap refills, and a substantial after-school and summer vacation clientele consuming ice cream. I estimate that almost a full half of my novel was drafted sitting at Stacy's Coffee Parlor, which gave me free Internet and a smiling face every afternoon.

I never really bonded with Stacy, but I saw her talking with her old-timer customers and wondered what it would be like to be a part of the community. The staff were also friendly and gracious even after my third hour banging away at the keyboard. I often wished I bought more from them than just coffee, but coffee was all I wanted, and I was broke and unemployed. Once in a while I would get into an interesting chat with another customer, and I remember once someone almost convinced me to go work for an elevator company.

You may already guess where this is going. If not, let me add that there is a Panera Bread right across the street and a Cosi's coffeeshop a block down. Both have opened within the last 4 years or so. There's also the token Starbucks a little further down the road. The road is named Main Street... doesn't that break your heart?

And so it is true: Stacy's is no more. Sometime during my romps around the globe, Stacy closed her doors for the last time. I'd like to think that she joined the Peace Corps or moved her shop to another much larger location. But the plethora of boarded-up shops in the U.S. I've seen this visit, combined with the even bigger plethora of Starbucks I am seeing just about everywhere tells me that this is wishful thinking. It's not just a moral desire to support the little guy that breaks my heart - Stacy's just seriously had more PERSONALITY than any Starbucks ever will.

The other day, some friends and I wanted to go out for coffee. The only place we knew of in the area was (obviously) Starbucks. None of us wanted to support the giant so we asked a local waitress if she knew of any independently owned coffee shops. She pointed us in the direction of a quaint neighbourhood with plenty of cute cafes.

But it was 6 p.m. on a Saturday. They were all closed. C'mon guys! We want to support you but you have to get with the programme! After guzzling our fair share of gas looking for a S'bucks alternative, we gave up - if the indy guys aren't going to hold up their part of the bargain, we can't give them the support we so greatly desire to give.

At the very last moment, right before we pulled into the Starbucks driveway, we were saved. This one awesome coffee and pottery painting joint was open for business, and the joyful smile of an independent barista welcomed us at the entrance. If you're anywhere near West Baltimore or Howard County, please please honour them for good service and flexible hours and free wireless: Find them at their website

(photo credit:


Lisa notes... said...

Oh, what a sweet spirit you have, Kati, pulling for the little guys. We have both a new Walmart AND Target being built within 1 mile of each other (and about 4 miles from my house). Boo. Although I do shop at both places "in town", I like them to be out there, not so near my own neighborhood. I like to pretend that I still live out in the backwoods country, but it’s getting harder and harder…

happygirl said...

The ONLY time I get S'bucks is when I'm stuck on the tollway with no other options. I'm glad you found something independent. btw, I'm back in MD now. And, back to the grind. I hope you are enjoying your time here.

Post a Comment