The significance of a great coffee shop and the rebirth of downtown

The impact of coffee on people of all cultures is well documented. It is estimated that nearly 25 million people worldwide make their living off of coffee as growers, processors, distributors, brewers and retailers. It is big business. What is less known is the real impact that coffee consumption has on a community through local coffee shops.

Of course, we are familiar with the exponential growth of companies such as Starbucks, and to a degree, we can give thanks to Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) for his vision and business savvy that drove this phenomenal growth. But the importance of coffee shops dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when coffee houses opened throughout the Middle East and on to Europe. What drove the growth of these shops was not just the beverage itself but also, even more importantly, the experience of consuming coffee in the presence of friends and other community members. The coffee house was where people met to discuss politics, religion, community events and their philosophical views of life. Many a movement toward change had its root in coffee house discussions.

The beverage itself has an incredible grip on people from every walk of life, every culture and every part of the world. Just to point to a few pieces of data: Nearly 54 percent of Americans consume coffee every day, and 31 percent consider consuming coffee the most important part of their morning routine. Fifty-five percent of coffee drinkers would rather gain 10 pounds than give up drinking the beverage, and 51 percent (interesting) would rather skip their morning shower than give up coffee. The coffeehouse business in the United States represents a $4 billion industry annually.* Needless to say – coffee is important.

At the heart of most active neighborhoods is a coffee shop that has personality – a place with exceptional attention to product quality; smiling, service-oriented staff who are always ready and willing to offer a sincere hello; and an environment that encourages people to stay a while, read a newspaper, check their email and carry on conversations about serious and not-so-serious matters. A community with such a hub is alive and full of energy – a community void of such a business seems to be empty and in need. Business people, community leaders, clergy, politicians, doctors and nurses, educators, contractors, cooks and servers, writers and poets, artists and trades people can all find a welcome home in a coffee shop that gets it right. When this type of business sets its roots in a community, it is a sure sign of exciting growth to follow. A great coffee shop is like that first robin to a promising spring.

In Saranac Lake, we are fortunate to have a great coffee shop. Origin Coffee and the presence of its proprietors, Jecinda and Josh, is a breath of fresh air. We certainly enjoy other businesses that have been part of our community landscape for years, but there is something very encouraging about Origin. I don’t have any scientific data to support my feeling, but know that the downtown area has a new spring in its step. The prospect of our business district “coming back” and growing to support those who have been hanging on for years, serving the people of Saranac Lake, feels brighter. It may very well be that the positive energy that stays a bit dormant during the Adirondack winter is starting to sprout and take shape as spring arrives, or maybe, just maybe it is encouraged by great coffee and the presence of a place to share that energy. A coffeehouse is the vehicle that helps to amplify the promise of tomorrow.

Most every day I find myself at the counter of Origin, enjoying a perfectly prepared cappuccino, taking in the opportunities that seem very promising in our little village, and waiting for another friend to walk through the door ready for a lively discussion.

Paul Sorgule lives in Saranac Lake and writes about restaurants on the Harvest America Ventures blog (harvestamericacues.com). He is a widely renowned chef who for 26 years was the dean of culinary arts and hospitality management at Paul Smith’s College.

* Data courtesy of “America’s Coffee Obsession,” Kitchen Daily, Nov. 2, 2011, accessed via Huffpost Taste, www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/americas-coffee-obsession_n_987885.html