A Phoenix Doesn’t Always Rise

There’s no story that illustrates my point better than the story of Jo Freedom. Their concept was simple; Get the coffee out of the hands of “Big Corporate”. Their process involved either buying a coffee made from fair trade beans and enjoying it within their quaint little shop, or buying a stored value card that you could then load at anytime and in that way, the small business would score one for Local Businesses everywhere.

The problem is, there’s a reason why big corporations like Starbucks thrive. The main reason is that they have a product and a strategy which is designed to survive in almost any economic climate or locale. Starbucks is the one corporation that I can honestly admit to having seen in every state I’ve been to, including the Anti-Big Box state of Vermont where I was born, so chime in if I’m wrong but Starbucks obviously knows what they’re doing.

Is Starbucks really the enemy of every privately owned coffee shop in the world? Of course not. I can provide a near endless list of small coffee shops that have never budged in the entire time I’ve been alive. It’s not the most profitable business out there and it is not the easiest way to pay the rent, but obviously the small shop owners who have been in the business know what they’re doing too. Whether it’s the unique way they brew their coffee, or the diversity of bakery items, or the small groups that rent out and patronize their shops for their own ends, Starbucks clearly is not the enemy of someone with a little know how, passion and a lot of elbow grease.

Where did Jo Freedom fail? I have my theories. You can dispute them or refute them or write flute music to them, but these are my observations. Take them with a grain of salt and keep in mind that I am writing about a shop that did not survive beyond the virginal two year mark that all businesses are statistically required to hurdle.

Probably their first big mistake was setting up shop on Essex Street in Salem. I was wrong about the Coven’s Cottage, but in fairness, their shop already plays to the expectations of locals and tourists who have come to Salem.

Salem is not called “Coffee Shop City”. There are no major historical events surrounding coffee here. Giles Corey did not refuse to enter a plea before the court while an executioner slowly ground his beans. Opening a coffee shop in Salem with a unique slant on the business is about as risky as trying to open up an original Bloomin Onion shop, although at least that would be unique.

The thing is, if you’re trying to get away from the trappings of a big corporation like Starbucks, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by opening up a shop on the most expensive street to own property on. A coffee shop that barely seats six people at a time and sells a limited number of items (Wow, you sell bagels? I bet no one does that.) is not going to thrive unless it has a regular flow of customers. The other coffee shop that sits just two blocks to the left of Jo Freedom has the advantage of a large amount of sitting space, as well as a wide range of food and drinks to satisfy customers at any time of the day.

The second big mistake was that Jo Freedom closed during the winter. Let me repeat that, they closed in the winter. The season that practically screams, “Where can I find a nice place to get out of this maelstrom to sit and drink a warm and tasty beverage!” and a shop that sells that very beverage is closed. I again draw attention to how expensive it has to be to rent that space in a building that shares space with condominiums and a very successful Wicca shop.

At some point, the owners must have realized how their tiny little space was probably discouraging a large amount of profitable customers from coming in. So they renovated and I’ll admit that it did look a lot more spacious now. Unfortunately, they must have really put their eggs in that basket because the shop was maybe open for another week or two before they started putting signs up alerting customers to how hard it was to run a coffee shop, which is why they could no longer afford to be open.

Alas, the Phoenix was extinguished.

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