Coffee Shop Conundrum

Coffee shop culture has changed with the advent of computers, wifi, smart phones, and all other devices that we all use everyday. Conversations and meetings still occur, but many people are there for the sake of productivity. With others working diligently (or at least appearing to do so), the background hum of other customers, and a good, hot beverage and snack, a coffee shop provides a comfortable atmosphere and alternative work space.

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The Traveled Cup in St. Albans, VT.

Wherever I’m traveling or whenever I have a considerable amount of writing/studying to accomplish, I prefer to spend time in a welcoming coffee shop. What is welcoming to me: comfortable chairs, various seating options, historic buildings, a nice ceiling, background music, good coffee, a few snack options, good lighting, some warmth to the space (rug or wood floors, not linoleum or stick tiles, for examples). Most often, a historic building that maintains its historic integrity fits all of these coffee shop requirements.

Sitting in a coffee shop on Saturday afternoon, I found it surprisingly empty of customers, except for a few people, all working or studying. Having the table space is much appreciated as well as a choice seat, all while sipping a bottomless cup of coffee and enjoying an oatmeal raisin cookie, but I found myself wondering how these little shops stay in business. There didn’t seem to be enough business over the course of a few hours to even fund the employees working. This particular coffee shop is probably much busier during the work week, and maybe I ended up in one of those weird customer lulls.

Coffe House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

Coffee House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

The cost for a cup of regular coffee varies; I’ve seen $1.25 to $2.50, but it generally falls at about $2.00. In some ways, $2.00 for a cup of coffee seems like a lot of money; after all, even buying a $12/lb bag of coffee, I can get so many more cups for $2.00. However, that amount of money would not support the overhead costs of a business (building, utilities, employees, insurance, supplies, food, etc.) It makes sense that the cup of coffee costs more – aside from the fact that someone made it for you – because it is paying for the atmosphere. If we weren’t seeking a coffee shop environment, we’d all swing by the nearest gas station and be on our way.

Still, say you pay $2.00 for a cup of coffee (maybe $2.50 for a bottomless cup or $.99 for a refill), and then proceed to spend hours in one coffee shop, how much should it really cost? It’s a tricky situation. Coffee shops provide wifi and other amenities to encourage customers, but people can routinely stay too long. If space is in demand, this is noticed.

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Speeder & Earl’s in Burlington, VT

Coffee lovers, what do you do? Do you make sure to buy food or many cups of coffee? Perhaps a more expensive coffee drink? Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be monopolizing your table for so long? I do my best to only take a small table, to order more than one item (spaced out over the time I’m there), and to return frequently. I want to support these businesses and the local economy. If there were no local coffee shops, we’d all be subjected to the chain retailers. (Alert! Preservation confession ahead.) And while I do enjoy Starbucks coffee, I do not enjoy spending time in Starbucks. They are cold in temperature, have a tin sound, and are generally not comfortable. It must be by design. Who else thinks so? In order to keep our local coffee shops in business, I’m going to drink more coffee, and remember that when a price seems high, I don’t mind paying it becauseĀ I like where I am. How do you feel?