With Your Coffee

Milton Historical Society.

Happy Sunday, friends! Have you been enjoying fall? We picked so many apples last week that I baked three pies this week. It’s fun delivering baked goods to friends. On a more serious note, anyone watch the Democratic debate? Anyone have a big assignment at work? How about midterms? I hope all is going well with you. Did it snow by you yet? In Burlington we had sleet for a few minutes. Yikes! Maybe your Sunday morning is filled with coffee, pie, and some quiet time for reading. Or a good adventure? What are you up to?

Cheers!

A Cafe sans Screens and Wifi

A coffee shop. A nice place to work, right? Or socializing?

In October, Preservation in Pink discussed the Coffee Shop Conundrum: coffee shop atmosphere and aesthetics, the cost of a cup of coffee, how much to spend in a small business, and how long to stay. Do you have coffee shop guilt? How can a coffee shop be the best atmosphere, the most inviting, and still make a profit?

You might have seen the recent NPR story on August First, a coffee shop/cafe in Burlington, Vermont that has banned screens (laptops and tablets) as of March 31, 2014. Why? Customers were squatting, staying too long and the business was losing money. Buying a few cups of coffee for a few hours was just not cutting it for profits. Additionally, when all of the tables are always full with people and laptops, it does not create the community feel that August First wanted. Rather than being social and neighborly, people were setting up shop with more space than needed and not leaving. The tables were not turning over. So August First made a bold move. Two years ago they cut the free wifi, and this year they banned screens (smartphones are allowed). The result? Sales have increased, even with people’s complaining.

August First in Burlington, VT.

August First in Burlington, VT.

While banning screens sounds crazy, you can probably understand August First’s point-of-view. Haven’t you ever walked into a cafe where the tables were all full, some with one person taking up a table for four? That isn’t fair to anyone.

If you read the comments on the NPR articles (hundreds) you’ll see that there are many issues at hand:

  1. Customers squatting at tables cuts down in revenues because tables do not turn over;
  2. Tables that do not turn over will discourage people from returning because they expect to not be able to find a table;
  3. What sort of atmosphere are the business trying to create?;
  4. Cafes are not meant to be alternate offices for freelancers (although I’m sure we’ve all wished about that!);
  5. Is there more of an issue for small business owners than chains such as Starbucks or Barnes & Noble?

The first two are easy to comprehend. Customers spending a few hours and drinking two cups of coffee, for example, will not create as much business as a group of people drinking a cup of coffee or eating a meal. Customers taking up more than one chair and space for one person, prevent more customers from choosing to drink/dine in this cafe.

Yet, some businesses might want the creative writing/academic/business crowd to settle in for a while and appreciate the space. Some people crave working in environments where you are allowed to drink coffee (as in, not the library) and hear the hum of everyday life around you while you work. As discussed in Coffee Shop Conundrum, Starbucks is not an environment where you’d want to say a while (in my opinion). A local, cozy, friendly coffee shop is. At that point, the issue becomes about respect and etiquette, issues often overlooked when screens are in front of our faces. Do not use the coffee shop as your office and spend enough money when you are there. However, what is the appropriate amount of money?

The issue of coffee shop space diverges into credit card v. cash purchases and the evolving nature of how we communicate, interact, and work.

Are there solutions? Well, for those who do not understand that a coffee shop is not an office, they should consider collaborative/co-working office space: renting a desk in an office with other freelancers. If you find the right space, you’ll find your ideal coffee shop/work atmosphere. Even the small city of Montpelier, Vermont has such a space – Local 64. Look around in your city.

What about a different approach? How about a pay-as-you-go space? A cafe in the U.K. and one in Buenos Aires serve as the examples. You pay for the amount of time that you’re in the cafe, not for anything else. It hearkens back to the days of the internet cafe, when you were paying for internet. It’s another version of the co-working space.

And then there are variations. Some coffee shops give you a code when you place an order. Once you run out of internet time, you have to buy something else to get additional time. Other places request that you limit your time and table space during busy hours. Perhaps creating a screen section would work.

Of course, each business can do what is best for its business and create the environment it would like. As we become more mobile and screen-attached, small businesses will have to be creative and find solutions to keep up their profits. Good job to August First for being braving and finding what works for them. Not to mention, the food is delicious, and August First is located in a historic building.

What do you think? Are there other issues? Does your favorite coffee shop have wifi? Any other solutions? What’s the balance?

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 because I like where I am. How do you feel?

Flamingo Travels

This weekend the flock, or at least half of us, are exploring New York City. Follow along on instagram and twitter for a flamingo overdose!

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Coffee in Enosburg Falls, VT

It’s Monday. Who needs a cup of coffee? That’s rhetorical. Aside from needing coffee, I love a good strong cup of coffee in the morning, or most anytime of day. And I love local businesses that serve good, local coffee brewed just right. Those are the businesses who care about their customers. One of my favorite places to get a cup of coffee in my northern Vermont travels is The Flying Disc in Enosburg Falls, VT.

The Flying Disc on Main Street in Enosburg Falls, VT.

The Flying Disc (left) on Main Street in Enosburg Falls, VT.

The Flying Disc is located in a beautiful historic building in Enosburg Falls, complete with its original storefront and full of historic integrity. It’s a unique coffee shop, complete with records, dvds, video games and other items for sale. Walk right in and you’ll be greeted by one of the owners, Kelee Maddox, who has a lovely soft, southern accent; she’s incredibly friendly and happy to talk with you for a while. Take a seat at the window, the coffee bar, a table or on the couch while you drink your coffee and read or use wifi for a bit.

Good stuff at The Flying Disc.

Good stuff at The Flying Disc.

The Flying Disc brews Vermont Coffee Company coffee (my absolute favorite) Want something more than regular coffee? No problem, there are plenty of options. And while you’re there, try a “super healthy cookie” (with or without chocolate chips). And no, that’s not in quotes to be sarcastic. Kelee made these cookies to get her kids to eat tons of vegetables, but you’d never know it. Seriously delicious and filling, you’ll be glad you tried one.

A beautiful location.

A beautiful location.

What I admire most about the Flying Disc is how reasonable the prices remain. A large cup of coffee is $1.25. And this is excellent coffee, not your standard gas station blend (if you know Vermont Coffee Company, you know what I mean!). It’s refreshing to find a low key coffee shop with affordable prices that really plays a role in the community. It keeps people coming back. (If my route calls for it, I’ll stop in twice in one day, happy to support this local business.)  Enosburg Falls has had better days and years, but it’s making a comeback in northern Vermont. And people like the Maddoxes believe in the town and see the progress.

A historic photo. The building looks much the same, except the staircase is enclosed and now has awnings.

A historic photo. The building looks much the same, except the staircase is enclosed and now has awnings. This photo hangs inside the coffee shop.

So stop in, grab some coffee, browse the music and videos and chat for a while. You can learn about the building’s history or hear about what’s going on in town.

A two story outhouse was removed in the 1940s. Thanks to The Flying Disc for allowing me to snap a photo of this photograph to share. Yikes, what a task it must have been to remove that!

A two story outhouse was removed in the 1940s. Thanks to The Flying Disc for allowing me to snap a photo of this photograph to share. Yikes, what a task it must have been to remove that!

What’s your favorite local business that you admire, and why?

Restored advertisements remain on the building.

Restored advertisements remain on the building.

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For the record, I’m writing about The Flying Disc simply to share a great business in Vermont, and to help travelers find a good cup of coffee. Opinions are my own and I’m not compensated in any way for this post.  And if you have a place you’d like to share, send it my way. Thanks! 

A&P Coffee Can

Coffee fuels my preservation thoughts. I love coffee. And yet, hopefully I’m not the only one who did not know that coffee used to come in a can that required a key to open said can. Am I (aside from my youngest sister)? Hmm. What kind of self respecting coffee addict aficionado am I? I must study. When my mother sent me the image below, I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about. Behold, the unopened coffee can with a key.

Drip Grind A&P Coffee.

The top of the coffee can. It

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The bottom of the coffee can. That key comes with the can and it fits in the metal tab on the side.

The side of the coffee can. The key fits into the black spot. Once opened, you have a reusable lid.

Aside from the fun retro factor, my mom is wondering a few things about this coffee can.

(1) When did companies stop making such cans?

(2) How much would something like this be worth?

(3) Does anyone have any information about such cans?

(4) Do you think the coffee is still good?

Ha! Just kidding on that last one; Mom will keep this for fun in her kitchen. She remembers them in the 1950s and 1960s, but not after that. If you could help us out – if you happen to a true coffee aficionado, please fill us in. (These photos are from a cell phone, but if you’d like better quality images, let me know.)

We like to know the stories of our belongings. Who has a good theory as to why this was never opened?

Enjoy! And thanks!

Friday Travels in Images

I am out and about this Friday for a whirlwind trip for a friend’s wedding. Left to my own devices this morning, I am free to wander around the great city of Boston and turn whichever direction I choose. Since I am not an expert with the iphone camera, I am practicing and taking better photos with the real camera. But for the sake of a picture week, here are some happenings from today.

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I will share more on flickr throughout the day so check the blog sidebar. Happy Friday to all!

Flamingo Kitchen Kitsch

Here is some sunny Friday fun for you. I’m channeling sunny Florida today, all the way from sunny northern Vermont.

Just when I think there couldn’t possibly be any more flamingo products in the world, my mother-in-law (to be) gives me a flamingo tea set as a gift. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I’m also not kidding when I say I love it.

Casual Flamingo Tea Set

A fancy bone china flamingo tea set.

And now look what I’ve found:

Flamingo mug from Pier 1 Imports.

What will they think of next? Actually, I probably do not want to know. Options are endless on sites like Cafepress and Zazzle. There must be some fine line that I should avoid crossing, right?

Anyway….

Who wants to have a flamingo tea party? Or a coffee party? Mugs can serve both purposes. We can have a leisurely afternoon and discuss buildings, communities, and saving the world.

Happy Friday!

Gold in Them Thar Hills: Part Three

SIA 2010 Overview. Part One. Part Two.

In order to not overwhelm one post with images, there will be three (or four) posts about Gold in Them Thar Hills.

So far our tour consisted of the Mollie Kathleen Mine and the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad. The giant tour bus ventured on windy Colorado roads to Victor, CO. Victor felt more authentic than Cripple Creek; with ghost signs, tired buildings, and that western feeling (without the Hollywood effect). In Victor we all ate lunch in the park and had some time to wander around the unique & interesting Victor Lowell Thomas Museum. The museum featured local history exhibits, mining history exhibits, and furnished rooms upstairs. Our visit was short, and I would have liked more time to wander around Victor.

Ah, I loved Victor, CO.

Neat signs and buildings on the small business strip.

Victor's streetscape.

Merchant's Cafe. Great coffee, great owner with entertaining stories, great atmosphere. It totally made my day. Go there and say hi to Alex, the baker in the back. In the 1970s, Alex owned an organic bakery in Putney, VT. What a small world! Visit the website.

The tour continued just outside of Victor, but that’s an entirely different set of photographs.One more from Victor:

Another shot in Victor; the town could use a spruce (but it's still lovely!)

Birthday Things

A birthday in roadside fashion certainly includes the world’s largest cupcake, even if it imaginary:

And if the cupcake is that big, I’m going to need the world’s largest pot of coffee and a giant  cup in which to hold it.  Note that the coffee pot pictured is the world’s largest Swedish coffee pot:

Both of these are in Stanton, Iowa, home of Virginia Christine, who is Mrs. Olson in the Folger’s commercials.

And I’ll probably need some flamingos who will share the giant cupcake and lots of coffee with me. Who’s in?

Cupcakes, coffee, flamingos … perfect. It seems like we have a case of, “If you give a mouse a cookie,” only it’s “if you give a flamingo a cup of coffee, she’ll surely want a cupcake, and some friends to join, and…” It’s a delicious cycle.

Now if only that homework thing could be resolved…

Trivia note: Did you know that “The Happy Birthday To You” song was popularized in the early 20th century, but before that, “Happy Birthday” was not seen on cakes?