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?


  1. Yeah, it's hard to know exactly what happened in these cases. We had a local favorite sandwich shop close...always packed, and then, one day, gone. I asked the neighboring shop if they knew, and was told that the overhead at the strip center was too high, but the owners planned to relocate. That was a year ago, and, sigh, still no show.

    Probably because my husband worked white collar crime and saw a lot of embezzlement in small companies, sadly, I always think of that as a possible reason for business failure. The small business owner is often shocked to find the culprit is an employee they believed was one of their best workers: in early, out late, always working. Restaurants and construction companies seemed to be fairly frequent victims. Frustrating thing is that in his years there, he saw repeat offenders.