Within A Month My Village Lost Both Its Independent Coffee Shops

Within A Month My Village Lost Both Its Independent Coffee Shops

The first one announced it was closing in late April, less than a month later my tiny village’s other independent coffee shop shut its doors for good. We’re only just beginning to see the coronavirus pandemic’s full economic toll, yet the closings of those two coffee shops hit me hard. 

Small cafés, when done well, are more than merely a place to pick up a coffee or a quick meal, they reflect a community’s very soul. They’re a place to catch up on the latest neighborhood news and gossip. A measure of an area’s ability to sustain local business. A witness to both the good and the bad of a village. Their loss can be devastating. 

The Green Marble was the first to go. Tucked down an alleyway off the Main Street in downtown Mystic, the quirky shop was a predominantly local hangout in a tourist town. Bruce Carpenter began the business in 1991 and his wife, Lisa Alden-Carpenter, inherited it when he died in 2014. Alden-Carpenter wrote in a Facebook post that her decision to close the shop’s door was about being ready for a new adventure, not the coronavirus: “I have kept Marble going because it was his dream and because I loved our community. Everyone who has frequented the Marble, everyone who has played a part in the history of the Marble has a place in my heart. I treasure each and everyone of you. I know that I am not alone. There are a lot of people who have throughout this time given great thought to what they’re doing with their lives. We are all wondering if what we’re doing with our lives as what we really want to do.” And while the physical store is gone, Alden-Carpenter plans to continue selling beans to local bakeries, restaurants and online. Still, it feels like losing a member of the community.

Bartleby’s Cafe at the corner of Main Street held on, open for take-out only for most of March, April and part of May. It was the welcoming light on during walks through downtown, when the rest of the village was closed. Bartleby’s owner and staff announced it’s closing in a Facebook post on May 13, 2020. 

“With a heavy heart we are announcing the permanent closing of Bartleby’s Cafe. At the end of this chapter in our lives we would like to reflect on all of the wonderful moments and friendships that were forged inside our coffee shop over the past twenty years. […] Bartleby’s was always a safe and cozy place you could go to sit and read or talk to friends and strangers for hours on end. A place to feel welcome, and a place to get delicious coffee and tea. We are proud to have served such an excellent community for as long as we did….”

The National Restaurant Association estimates that the industry will lose $225 billion and 5 to 7 million jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant analysts have suggested 75 percent of independent restaurants that have been closed to protect Americans from the coronavirus won’t survive. Those are big, almost unfathomable numbers. They don’t speak to what it means to lose a neighborhood spot.

There are still plenty of places to get coffee in Mystic. There’s a Starbucks

and a Dunkin’, but while those places employ local people, study after study has shown that local independent businesses invest more money in the local economy. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that for each $100 spent at local independents generated $45 of local secondary spending, compared to $14 for a big-box chain. 

There’s also a bakery shop serving Green Marble roasts and another bakery with incredible seasonal, specialty drinks, like lavender honey lattes. But the bakeries are the cherry on top: a place to grab goodies while walking the dog or catch up with friends; the coffee shops were the ice cream, the place to pick up local beans, or sit and work. They’re irreplaceable and yet they’re not. 

Two new businesses are thankfully, already planning to open in the spots left vacant by the coffee houses: one a doughnut shop and one a coffee shop. As we realize that the unsettled times we’ve been living in over the past few months are going to be a new normal, it’ll be up to the new owners and the village to figure out how to sustain them and maybe, just maybe create an even better local food economy.

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