Our coffee shop was too trendy. That’s what the feedback seemed to be suggesting. ‘Bloody hipsters,’ my husband read out while browsing our alerts. Ireland doesn’t have hipsters, I told him. But we agreed it was a problem. A good half of the population of Dublin is afraid of second-hand furniture. It was a Sunday Independent comment about the floorspace being too huge to be cosy that gave us an idea to address the atmosphere problem.
We installed a temporary wall by stringing a row of curtains down the middle of the café. On one side of it we removed all the old furniture, the paper lanterns, the dog basket. In went formica tiles, beech-coloured flatpack furniture, laminated tabletops. A plastic side-table with disposable wooden stirrers and sugar sachets replaced the spoons and sugar bowls. Our surrounding windows allowed light to both sides, although the new area was mostly florescent-lit.
When we reopened on Monday morning, customers walked up a narrow corridor to the coffee counter and then, mug in hand, veered left into bohemian paradise or right into a predictable corporate-styled coffee house.
Business improved immediately. The usual complaints used to dismiss coffee shops could not apply. Those disgusted with grim, sterile chains continued to come to our locally owned business. The left-hand side suited most of them. Those endlessly angry at kids wearing hats could now find refuge in our right-hand side.
‘A little mercenary, isn’t it?’ my husband read out. ‘But I can’t fault the coffee. I almost wish there was something in between hipsterville and Starbucksville.’ The Internet was never happy, but we began thinking…
The third segmentation, this time squashed between the existing rooms, was something in between conservative and free-spirited. The furniture was second-hand, but carefully chosen. The chairs matched. There was local art on the walls, but it contained less open vaginas than the left-hand side. It became popular with those who wanted to support local coffee shops, but did not require ceaseless African drum music. Parents and their grown children met there. Suits and robes. It was a middle ground, in a literal and social sense.
We’re up to five areas now. Both ends have become more extreme in their respective characters — the right hand side has lost its windows. The left-hand side has a near permanent open mic, used primarily by poets. Personally I’d rather not spend time in either of them. The in-betweens run a subtle spectrum from left to right. All areas are equally popular, as far as we can make out. Everyone’s coffee still comes from the same pot, from the same counter at the top of the shop, but nobody seems to notice the coffee.