Will the Coffee Shop Gallery find a new owner?
Scuttlebutt on the street and in the shop is that the Coffee Shop Gallery will be shutting its doors after the Christmas holidays if it does not find new ownership. Michelle Mechling, longtime owner of the shop, has been trying to sell the business for some years now.
The Coffee Shop Gallery has long been the place to go for a good cuppa, and the place to go if you’ve been off in the world and are back in the Verm for a visit or for good. It’s the place to connect and reconnect with friends and strangers alike over great food and beverages in a cozy atmosphere.
And, it’s a cornerstone of downtown Vermillion life–a hang-out and a jumping-off and resting point for shopping excursions downtown. A place for a casual lunch, snack, class meeting and meeting with friends. It’s a place where the arts culture of the city is expressed through poetry slams and regular art shows from the area.
And it’s going to be gone.
Already the shelves are looking meager–the once-full tea display is rapidly emptying, and the whole bean coffee selection is half-gone. The economy has taken its toll on the numbers of clientele, and on many afternoons, there are fewer customers lounging on the couch or clicking at their keyboards.
The Coffee Shop Gallery has long been Vermillion’s best all-ages third place–a place away from home or work where community can be forged over cups of steaming coffee and espresso beverages or icy Italian sodas. Its downtown corner location offers a good amount of parking, and it’s a favorite walking and biking destination as well.
As one who has worked in the food service industry–four coffee shops, a couple of restaurants, a couple of bars, and a bakery–I’ll be the first to say that working with the public isn’t always easy. It’s long hours; it’s making up shifts for people who call in sick (or simply don’t show); it’s dealing with prigs and a tight bottom line.
It’s also forging friendships and putting smiles on faces–making a special treat they’ve never tried before and making them feel at home, making someone just what they wanted in a world where that doesn’t often happen, making them feel like someone listened to them–even if it wasn’t their boss, but their barista. It’s about making people feel special.
According to the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) page on Ray Oldenburg, author of The Great Good Place:
In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.
This is the function that the Coffee Shop Gallery has been fulfilling in the Vermillion community for years now–from its cramped but intimate beginnings on East Main between the Vermillion Beauty Shop and Uncle John’s (do you remember when?) to its much-expanded digs on West Main and Market’s lively corner.
My dream for the Coffee Shop under new ownership is more of a bakery and cafe atmosphere, where the yeasty heat of high-quality fresh-baked breads, scones, and cookies mingles with the enticing aroma of fresh-brewed coffee and perfectly-steeped teas.
Where the sandwiches are made on the same breads baked in the back kitchen, and where the soups and salads are as high-quality and homemade as they have been under Shelly’s direction. I envision a place where service is friendly and efficient, but customers (friends!) feel free to linger in that warm, inviting haven.
I see a press pot of black tea ready for to-go orders alongside the urns of coffee. Sorry, flavored coffee fans–those chemical-soaked beans don’t figure in my fantasy. Why not try a latte or an Americano with a half-shot of flavored syrup? Trust me, I’ve seen how they flavor those coffees, and that’s not something you want in your body.
I also envision the possibility of a proper Sunday brunch for a change–though to really do it right, you’d have to take a page out of Emma’s Kitchen past and get your beer and wine license to serve mimosas along with the quiches and French toast, the muffins and–can we have marmalade to go with that rye bread? I’m in heaven….
If you’re up for the challenge of running the most important meeting place in town (sorry, City Hall, you’re way too stiff-looking for that honor), contact Shelly and get on it right away. We can’t afford to lose our hangout, our haven, our third place.
And the ideas above are completely free for the taking. What can you imagine?