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While the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced many small businesses to close their doors, one Lebanon County coffee shop has doubled their footprint in 2020. 

Just before Jonestown-based Swatara Coffee Company was supposed to cut the ribbon on their new location in Annville, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Pennsylvania, shutting down sit-down service at restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Owners John Noll and Joanna Guldin-Noll decided to close their Jonestown shop and put a hold on opening their Annville shop, instead switching to selling their coffee online.

Months later as Swatara Coffee preparing to open their new location, the state  reduced capacity at restaurants and bars to 25 percent capacity, including staff. For Swatara Coffee’s location at 104 West Main Street in Annville, the staff accounted for nearly 25% of the shop’s capacity, meaning no one would be able to sit at the bar facing the window of the shop, or on a the cozy seats in the corner. 

A roped off seating area and turned-over chairs is not a typical site in a newly-opened, bustling coffee shop. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Swatara Coffee Co. to make some major adjustments to their business. (Photo: Nora Shelly)

Luckily, they had room for plenty of spaced apart outdoor seating. So on July 16, Swatara Coffee opened their doors to Annville for the first time. 

“John and I really try to operate with a sense of possibility and optimism. So the pandemic is not optimal, but I don’t think it’s optimal for anybody at all no matter where they are or what they’re doing,” Guldin-Noll said. “But we’ve been really humbled and gratified to see … the response from the community.”

Despite everything, Noll said the timing was “fortuitous.” A Navy veteran, Noll said he did as much research as any non-scientist could about whether it would be safe to open their doors. 

Once he was sure they could open back up and keep both employees and customers safe, Noll was all in.

“I didn’t have any reservations about continuing our plans, it just came down to when should we open our doors,” Noll said. 

More: Couple open new coffee shop in Jonestown for the community

More: Coronavirus and downtown Lebanon’s revitalization: Is the business momentum at risk?

A historic spot in Annville

Since they opened Swatara Coffee in Jonestown in 2017, Noll said they’ve heard from people telling them they’d be a great fit in Annville. 

They found out about an opening at 104 W. Main Street – the historic Kettering Corner which had long been the home of a sporting goods store by the same name. Since that store closed in 2004, it has been home to an ice cream parlor and a restaurant, said Michael Schroeder, president of historic preservation group Friends of Old Annville.

The coffee shop fits in perfectly with the building’s long history, Schroeder said, and will be a boon to the local economy.

“It’s wonderful to have (Kettering Corner) be used as a place for social gathering,” Schroeder said. “One of the thing we’re learning from this pandemic is restaurants are key anchors to our local economies, because they not only generate revenue and employment but they get their supplies from local vendors.” 

Swatara Coffee sources from Patches Family Creamery and Laudermilch Meats, Noll said, among other local businesses. Beyond supporting local vendors, Noll is hoping the shop helps bring traffic to other businesses in Annville – already they’ve seen people walking in and out of Annville businesses with coffee in hand.

With Lebanon Valley College students returning to campus, Noll said they are looking forward to being a (distanced, outdoors) gathering place for students.

“I’m excited to be part of the fabric of this community,” Noll said. 

Nora Shelly can be reached at 717-454-7817 or nshelly@ldnews.com

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