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Doug Krizner: Running an independent coffee shop in New York City is tough. Corporate coffee houses are going up all over town. From WNYC in New York, Lisa Chow finds out what the independents are doing to survive.
Lisa Chow: Cafe owner Clemente Valguarnera is feeling the squeeze. There are several Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts within a mile of his East Village cafA©, and the number’s growing.
His revenues were down 15 percent this year. He worries about losing his lease, which is up for renewal in two years.
It doesn’t help that some people use his place like a waiting room, instead of a cafA©. He points to one man.
Clemente Valguarnera: He always comes here. He reads his own newspaper, brings his own water, stays a couple hours and then he leaves, without buying nothing.
And then there are the ones who sit with their laptops for hours. Valguarnera says forget hiding the electrical outlets. It doesn’t work.
Valguarnera: I saw people going behind my kitchen to plug the phone, to plug computers, to plug anything they can because they think they are entitled to do it.
Anas Muwais is a writer. He prefers Valguarnera’s cafe to Starbucks because the ambiance, patrons and staff are cooler. Plus, the coffee’s cheaper. He’s been coming for two years. He stays for about six hours, almost every day.
Anas Muwais: I actually bring business into the place. I have tons of friends who come by. They visit. They like the place. They start hanging out. So it’s actually kind of narrow-minded if you conceive of my economic value as just that $10 a day.
Valguarnera’s average customer spends just $2.50.
He’s had to sell different sandwiches and pastries to bring more income in. But he still has had to start a second job to keep the cafe going.
As corporate coffee chains tighten their grip on New York, the independents are changing tactics. They’re selling food and alcohol. Some are adopting table service and setting minimum spending rules. They’re even taking the cushions off their chairs.
New Yorkers aren’t about to give up coffee, and there’s a large section of the coffee drinking public that will gravitate to more eclectic, independent cafes that inspire creativity.
The issue for the cafes is how to keep that creativity turning over.
In New York, I’m Lisa Chow for Marketplace.
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