Thursday, July 9, 2009

Should we be more like a library?

I wondered if I should write today about the lessons learned so far, or something else that came up today that got me thinking... because lessons learned sounded kind of boring, I opted for the latter.

Today I was visiting a friend, using her new iPhone, which had the Urban Spoon application (the one where you can shake it and it randomly selects a restaurant for you... totally awesome). While I simultaneously shook and coveted my friend's iPhone, I came across my own shop. I had to run after Anouk because she was starting to play too far from the porch, and my husband took the phone and started reading one of the reviews someone wrote. It goes as follows:


"Good for Kenton or Good for Kenton 'Mamas'?" by niccurl (3 reviews)
June 16, 2009 - Likes it - As a Kenton resident (and parent!) I have longed for a neighborhood coffee shop to join the Denver Ave. business community. I have visited on 3 occasions; the first for a coffee to go; the second during 'off' hours in the evening. But when I visited on my weekday off to really experience the shop, relax in a comfy chair, enjoy coffee, pastry, and the newspaper, I was disappointed to find a noisy scene with nowhere to sit. One toddler was using a lounge chair as a jungle gym, other couches and chairs were occupied by more moms and kids while the playroom sat empty and the "laptop set" (and broad customer base?) struggled through the noise. I can't help but wonder if Ms. Burke's (the proprietor) statement featured in the Oregonian is really accurate: "This isn't a kids' cafe," "It's a cafe that is kid-friendly."? Libraries are definitely kid-friendly, and most parents and kids do a good job of being respectful of library etiquette. A coffee shop/cafe is similar. Sure there are a.... "ton of fancy, uppity, quiet, snooty places..." in town, as one patron points out...but not in Kenton! And what is "uppity and snooty" about a calm/relaxing coffee shop anyway? Ms. Burke writes a very thoughtful and excellent response to the initial "Good for Kenton....." posting. And I will add that the only way to encourage businesses to appeal to their entire customer base is by writing these very reviews. Why alienate anyone? (is Posies interested in appealing to a broad customer base or to it's Mamas?) Would it be unreasonable to encourage parents and kids to model library-like behavior? Or do we just need another Kenton coffee shop on Denver for people who like to converse, read, type, or peruse over coffee in a calm and comfortable environment?......there's rental space available!


I'm curious to get responses to this. Should we set the tone of the shop to be like a library? Would this ultimately resolve the issue and end the debate of being a kid-friendly shop vs. a kid shop? Is it possible to "encourage" parents and children to model a certain type of behavior without alienating them too? I wonder if it is even possible to encourage an atmosphere of quiet reverence (like a library) when you add in the element of food (food and large spaces naturally invite louder conversation and activity than an academic setting), but maybe I'm wrong... I am curious to get everyone's feedback.

Believe it or not, I remember this day, and this moment when the customer who wrote this review was looking for a seat as a child bounced on one of the available seats. It was a strange predicament for me that you had to be there to understand, but that's not really the point. This review got me thinking about the reviewer questioning the accuracy of my quote in the Oregonian about the shop being kid-friendly, not a kid's shop...

I wonder sometimes if this is something other businesses have encountered - becoming loved by one particular crowd (in this example, parents and children), and then other customers feeling frustrated with the shop not creating an atmosphere for their particular crowd because they are outnumbered that day. Being the owner of the shop, and knowing what my intention was versus how others perceive my intention based on who patronizes the shop creates an interesting discussion... who actually controls the environment of a shop? The owner or the patrons? Ultimately, my intention was to do something good for the neighborhood - I wasn't attempting to open an advocacy business for parents and children. Something I did want to do was make sure that we didn't end up like was one of the shops I never felt welcome in with or without a child... I wanted Posies to be a place for everyone to feel welcome. That said, the media latched onto various components, and I feel maybe we've gotten typecast by some (kids room and mothers working at the shop getting most of the attention).

Because it seems that the author of this review reads this blog, I am curious to ask if during your other visits during the evening and with your coffee to go, did you feel the same way? Or was it only during your day off when you happened to hit the "mother load" :) I'm curious to know if it was during the 10am - 1pm window. In re-reading what you wrote, it seems possible that we were actually just quite busy that day with customers taking up all (but one) seat, leaving a few customers stranded. We added outdoor seating to make up for the shortage we can sometimes have indoors, but sometimes it can seem that we never have enough.

You mentioned the "fancy, uppity, snooty, quiet places" throughout Portland, and wondered what was so wrong with that... honestly, there is really nothing wrong with that. All I can say is that it just wasn't what I was going for. I know Kenton has waited a long time for something like this. (Our first day open, our first customer was my friend Vicky Kirk, who came in crying because she has waited 18 years for some change like Posies.) I suppose what I was going for was my mother's house, just in a coffee shop. I wanted it to feel like a home and for the atmosphere to be like it was around my parent's kitchen table, something I've never felt in a coffee shop in Portland before. It seems I've been successful because oftentimes the children at the shop are reminiscent of the kids running around my parents' house.

Of course, please know I'm not trying to alienate anyone. I love Kenton, and want every single resident to feel like Posies is somewhere they can spend time and be themselves. I haven't perfected how to be the best shop for all residents, but I appreciate the feedback. Ultimately, and most importantly, we were trying to do something for the greater good of the neighborhood.

So, dear readers, tell me - how could we improve at the very least, the chaos, or maybe parents not really keeping tabs on their children and their surrounding community? And should I and my staff attempt to control the atmosphere more, or let it happen more organically (Saturdays and Sundays may be tough to control the adults crowding the place and making so much noise...)? And to my Kenton critic, "niccurl", I would love to meet with you. I think we could both benefit from hearing a little more from the other's perspective. Feel free to email or call me to set up a time, or just stop in if you'd like.

In the meantime, if it becomes too crazy, let me offer a blatant plug for one of my competitors... North Star can be a good alternative, and I encourage everyone to patronize and support other Kenton businesses.



Makid Studios said...

No please don't be a library!

I love the kids going around and having fun and being a little loud sometimes! I can see the other parents (mostly moms) catching up with their friends and feeling comfortable being in such a great environment. Posies is like a big comfy couch, with style.

I can see all the work and energy that Jessie has put into Posies. I see the details that others may miss. Jessie, do what you think is best for you and for Posies but please don't be discouraged by a couple of critical posts.

Lets face it, there are people out there that are not comfortable around kids. I for one feel uncomfortable being in a restricted environment, like a library. Shock! I know, someone that doesn't really like libraries.

All the best, and thank you for all the work that you do for our community.

-Scott McCarty

Vince said...

Making Posies a place where "...everyone feels welcome" is probably not a realistic goal. It's your business, and I realize you want it to be successful. However, "successful" doesn't necessarily mean catering to the most people.

Go back and think about why you opened the business in the first place. From that spot, clarify your goals, and I bet you'll discover a reasonable answer for this period in time.

Pamela said...

I agree with Vince - revisit your business plan, your goals, and your vision for the space. What is your target market? Create a place that invites and welcomes that group.

As someone who works in the neighborhood, I've used Posies several times for coffee/lunch meetings and the activity swirling around us didn't create a problem. Three times I met with volunteers on my Relay For Life of Portland planning committee and American Cancer Society staff partners, and once I met with a vendor pitching me options for a couple new print campaigns. One time I felt my group was getting the "stink eye" from a gaggle of mommies who wanted the cushy seats we occupied, but otherwise, I've always felt welcome and able to conduct effective meetings.

That said, I do have some anxiety that the kid factor could take over (I live in St. Johns and avoid Anna Bananas due to the focus on/preference for people with children)... but at this point, I still feel very welcome sans kids.

Abigail said...

Even before I had kids, I had words with a patron at Madrona who was complaining about kid and noise. I pointed out to him (gently, I hope) that probably 90% of cafes and restaurants don't cater to kids, and that if he doesn't like the atmosphere at the ones that do, he shouldn't patronise them. He has plenty of options. Parents of small children don't!