Thumbing through the pages of a recent book gifted to me by a reader I became aware that my issue for this week’s column space is indeed something I would refer to as a “first world problem.” In other words, it’s a “problem” I’m fortunate to have.
Yet as a journalist in a small town, I also feel it my responsibility to not just report the happenings of events, businesses and such around town, but to add the personal side to small town life as well.
A few weeks back my heart was broken on an unfamiliar level. Perhaps it was the shock or the surprise of what I found which hit the hardest. It may also have been the sadness I felt of corporate America not understanding our demographic.
They have people for that after all, so who am I to say. What I know for sure is a place I once referred to as my “remote office” of 20-plus years underwent a remodel and removed any indoor opportunity I or any of us might have to sit and share conversation and a cup of coffee, tea or a snack with one another.
Located smack dab in the center of town (an ideal location), ironically this business was first being constructed just as my first Oakdale house was. My family often joked that as one of their longtime customers, they were tracking me and my spending potential, hence the construction of its first local location.
That was in early 2000. By 2002, I would take up employment across the street from the one place in town where I was “known” by the smiling faces serving me my morning coffee. It was a wonderful time.
As a transplant and fish out of water, that familiarity was both refreshing and fun. Back in that day I would often take the crew donuts on holidays to thank them for being there or cookies in the afternoon as a way of saying thanks.
We were all on a first name basis, many knowing my order better than I did. The managers were peppy and part of the community and while this business is and was not a small business the staff and feel operated as if they were.
Happy to have a place beyond our old building to meet with people, it quickly became known as my other office by friends, colleagues and many in the community. Through the years, I came to learn there were many of us who had fostered this place into part of our regular routine and that to me is special.
Many in our community would stop there in the morning for a ‘Cup of Joe’ on their way to work or to sit and read the paper with a friend or two. This still happens at other businesses in town, they each host their own stories. The uniqueness of this business however was the location - smack dab in the middle of town - perfect.
In real estate there is an expression known by all, most especially the wise investor; location, location, location and this business was/is in prime location.
So a few weeks back as a friend expressed a need to meet, we set our plans to meet there for an iced tea in the middle of a Sunday.
Unbeknownst to me, there was just one problem. A rather swift and efficient remodel had transformed the business from a great place to meet with friends to much of what I see in urban areas. Gone were all the indoor tables and chairs. They had been replaced by a larger area for staff and a walk-up counter for the guests, with stand-up counters (no stools) two deep in the center of the lobby area.
Wait what? I get this concept is great for fast paced metropolis areas and maybe, just maybe I’ve become so disconnected that I fail to see it now fits our town too, but I think not. While we have all become increasingly busy, we equally love the sense of community offered in this town.
Sadly this remodel does not embrace that. This new version of this longtime local business is pretty straight forward. Come in, give us your money, just please don’t stay.
The disconnect of humanity post-COVID living is a real concern for yours truly and will be expanded on in future columns; this new business model is part of the problem.
Side note, I have been informed by others that there is a bigger and better solution coming on the west end of town as this business constructs another location. Personally, I don’t care. They’ve lost me. Location, location, location, after all.
The good news is we have choices. I’ve now been challenged to look to our small, locally owned business, just like my own and create new remote office space. One such coffee house I hope will be opened right on Third Avenue in the heart of downtown just in time for the holidays complete with seating and local owners … I’m in.
Until then, my trusty Mac and I have traveled and set up shop in a few local eateries which are happy to have us, and we them.
Good bye my long-loved mermaid. You were good to me and this community for many years, now however it seems we’ve truly outgrown one another. As you cater to the fast-paced mobile ordering crowd, I will settle into a new chair, a new storefront and a new mobile office. Cheers and thank you.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 209-847-3021.