Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death of a Coffeehouse

Image by Jeroen van Oostrom

Last Friday, I met a friend at my favorite local coffeehouse, Caffe Felice.  The place was packed, and I had to move quickly to score us a table.  Practically since it opened, it's been my go-to place for writing and meeting people.  A central, public location that's never too noisy but not so quiet that you feel uncomfortable having a conversation. The coffee was fantastic, the owners were friendly...

Yesterday, following an appointment, I decided to go down there for a couple hours with my netbook to get some writing work done.  As I pulled into the Landing, I noticed that the parking was easier than usual.  Well, that's nice, I thought.  I should have no problem getting a table today.  I was lost in my own thoughts until I approached the door.  A brightly colored bouquet caught my eyes, threaded through the door handles.  A printed sign hung on both doors:  Closed.

I looked at the bouquet.  Had somebody died?  There was a card tucked into the flowers.  I hunkered down a little bit to read it.  I don't remember the exact words, but the writer essentially expressed her regret at the "unnecessary death of a small business and a fine addition to the Landing."  I stood there for a moment as the reality sank in.  It was gone.  My favorite writing and meeting place had vanished, suddenly, somehow, between last Friday and today.

I drove home, hoping to find some answers as to what had happened.  They were gone from Facebook (I had, of course, friended them).  Their website only linked to a domain name directory.  I found no links on Google that even mentioned that they had closed, only articles about their opening two years ago and the usual review sites.

What went wrong?  I'm racking my brain, but I can only think of a few things:

  • Over the past year, their hours had slowly decreased.  At one time, they had been open until 9 pm, making them the perfect place to spend time before a late movie (which I had done), a meeting place for a book club (which I had also done), and getting a little evening work done while the kiddo was at Scouts (guess what?).  Slowly, the time they were open slipped back until they were open until 8 (which eliminated the book club option and the Scouts option), and then 7.  My visits decreased, since that evening availability was no longer there.
  • The place was always packed, but I've been witness to people coming in with food from the 5 Guys up the street, eating their lunch, then leaving without buying anything at all.  Really, could you be more rude?  I always made a point of purchasing something when I went in, a coffee, an iced tea, oatmeal, a bagel... Were others not so considerate?  Was the free wi-fi slowly killing them while giving the appearance of a bustling business?
  • While searching for answers on Google, I noticed that some person had written an utterly scathing review of Caffe Felice and proceeded to place it on practically every review site available.  I read through the review and came to the conclusion that the person writing it was... well, a jerk.  The owner, not one to suffer fools, was apparently quite open in letting him know that.  I can't say I don't blame her.  Isn't that part of the joy of owning your own business though?  Not having to kiss up to anyone you don't want to?  Did she need to do a better job of playing the "customer is always right" game?
I don't know the answer, and all of this is merely speculation.  I am sad, and I wish I could find out what happened.  I'm sure that there's a lesson to be learned here for small businesses or anyone who is their own boss.  

What is the lesson here?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The X-Factor, My Cousin, and Risk Taking

This past weekend, my cousin Kristin auditioned for "The X-Factor."  Although in the end she was not selected, she gave her very best, was allowed to show off her immense talent, and walked away proud of herself.  She knew she had given her all and had earned the right to hold her head high.  She's already looking forward to her next major audition.

I watched as the whole thing unfolded on my Facebook page.  Regular updates from both Kristin and her sister Kassie allowed me to vicariously experience the excitement, the nervousness, the sheer joy of performing in front of an audience.  In the end, I wanted to stand up and give Kristin a standing ovation for having the sheer guts, the  faith in herself to do what so many are never able to do.  She took a huge risk.  Maybe she wasn't selected this time, but the confidence she gained and the desire to push on are priceless rewards.

Kristin with Tommy Tutone, one of the judges.
Photo courtesy of Kassie Moxon

Why am I posting about this on a blog primarily about writing?  Any talent-based venture, be it music, writing, dance, art... each begins by taking a risk.  By standing up and saying, "I can do this.  I want to do this."

The way I see it, success in these ventures can be broken down into just two primary pieces:  talent and perseverance.  Bicker all you want about how big the percentage is of each piece, but without both, there will be no success.

Although a lucky select few are born with a brilliant innate talent, many of us are able to take advantage of a single spark of talent, or the hint of a talent.  Over time, with practice and teaching from others who have gone before us, we are able to hone that talent and make it shine.  Change it into something that others also find valuable.

You can have all the talent in the world, but it is useless without the drive and the perseverance to deliver it.  You must show off this talent.  Let others see it.  Put it in front of their faces if you have to.  If you have something to sing, get up on that stage and sing it.  If you have something to say, post it where everyone can find it.  Artists, paint your hearts out and then show the world.  You will get "no."  It's inevitable.  But eventually, you will get "yes."  Take that first "yes" and make it work for you.  Let it snowball.

Today I applied for a writing position that some might consider above my head.  I have faith that, given the chance, I could rock this position.  And who cares?  I took the risk.  I'll take it again.  You remember what they say about the lottery, right?  You can't win if you don't buy a ticket.