The current economic situation is taking its toll on local small businesses, and even the coffeehouse model so well rooted in Asheville is not immune. But while one local beanery is shutting down, another is taking a community-based route toward survival.
As of June 18, the 2-year-old Caffiend is no more. The 24-hour Merrimon Avenue coffee outlet closed its doors amid a farewell show that featured local music and even puppetry.
“If I had any way to avoid this, I would,” owner Matt Hebb told
. “This economy has just not been very easy. [The shop] needed more money than I have.”
Although the shop had gained a reputation as a haven for goths, punks and other up-all-nighters, Hebb says the business was actually common ground for all comers. (It was also home to the conservative Asheville Latté Republicans, for example.)
“We had a massive community of regulars,” noted Hebb. And it was the crowd that defined the shop's atmosphere — a development that Hebb says he welcomed. “The shop hasn't really been mine for a long time,” he observed. “Yes, it sucks for me, but what really bothers me is that there are people who come here who really don't have anywhere else to go.”
Meanwhile, for the 1-year-old Firestorm Café and Books, an economic challenge is merely another opportunity for the community to rally around a common need. Up till now, the worker-owned business on Commerce Street has focused on offering a downtown meeting and performance space. But that has left the café “just scraping by,” reports Radio Goldman, who handles bands, media relations and such. Firestorm worker/owners pay themselves about $3 an hour, she says.
To pump up revenues and draw more customers through the door, the shop is trying to focus more attention on its café. A refrigerated display case, notes Goldman, would give that effort a serious assist, helping define the café area and making it more inviting to people unfamiliar with the space. It would also make the food more presentable (shortly before this interview, the icing on a freshly baked batch of cupcakes had melted).
“But what we're short on is capital,” she says. “And that's something we can't get through traditional loans. Banks are strapping down.”
Instead, the shop is reaching out to the community in hopes of raising a few thousand dollars toward a display case. To get there, Firestorm is selling gift certificates that are worth 10 percent more than the purchase price. For example, $50 (the lowest denomination offered) gets you a $55 gift certificate. All of the proceeds from the certificates goes into an account dedicated to the display case; they've raised about $400 so far, says Goldman.
For more information, stop by the shop (48 Commerce St., one block south of Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville) or go to www.firestormcafe.com.