Friday, September 11, 2009

...Where Everybody Knew Our Name

Over the past few years, Nicky and I have been frequent patrons of Java Journeys, a unique blend of coffee shop and travel agency located in Owings Mills next to Stevenson's residential campus. As we're occasionly wont to do, we went there this past Thursday to have breakfast before I went off to my 8 a.m. class and Nicky to Johns Hopkins. Sadly, the barrista-on-duty told us that the shop will be closing next week. Not that this is truly surprising in a down economy, but the official explanation from owners Chris and Larry Swerdlin was nonetheless puzzling:

World events, coupled with the economic woes we all read about and experience, have conspired to render our vision of a travel agency operating a friendly coffee bar not sustainable at the present time.

"World events"? Who could possibly have set in motion "world events" of sufficient gravity to force a small coffee shop-travel agency to close? I rather think that the "event" that spelled Java Journeys' doom occurred much closer to home: A Dunkin' Donuts opened in the same strip-mall complex a while back.

I'm not one of those folks who reflexively assail "greedy mega-chains" and make a fetish of shopping at independently owned stores. Too often, those who pursue such a self-righteous course are also loudly in favor of the taxes, regulations, and other governmental intrusions that make it hard for a small business to find its feet. I split my coffee- and pastry-buying fairly evenly between Java Journeys and Dunkin' Donuts. There's no denying, however, that the people at JJ always made us feel welcome and quickly learned to anticipate our needs. Chains are convenient and generally efficient but don't possess that same sense of "style." When Nicky and I find that rare chain with a unique approach -- Ukrop's Supermarkets, Chick-fil-a, and IKEA being three particularly good examples -- we go out of our way to support it. We do try, however, not to forget the "little guys."


Chuck Munson said...

You may faint dead-away, Chris, that I would agree with you on such a thing, but in the case of the small independent business, I have often thought that they seem to be required to respond to a number of regulations which are a) irrelevant to their business and b) bog them down in paperwork. Worse yet is that it comes at them from all different directions - federal, state and local. The documentation that larger companies have a staff to do often falls down to the beleaguered owner and maybe his or her family to attempt to respond. I would like to believe that most people running small businesses attempt to be responsible and responsive to the needs of their nation, state and locality as well as to their customer base. I personally believe that an overhaul of national and state regulations that affect small businesses, especially those that appear to cause the greatest amount of adversity, would be appropriate to attempt to mitigate impact on businesses under a certain size, either in terms of cash flow or number of employees. What regulations are absolutely the most essential ones to be in place for what that small business does and its impact on society and the environment. Same with the tax code. Simply a matter of determining what is appropriate for small businesses while following the intent of rule and regulation. Make sense?

In the meantime, I am sorry to hear of the loss of one of your happy haunts. I too have seen many businesses that I really enjoyed for either the people or what was offered close up shop for one reason or another. Always disappointing.

Chris Barat said...


You make perfect sense to me. The Civil Rights Act of '64 would be an example, I think, where the rights of all individuals in the community to fair treatment and service would outweigh the desire of the small business owner not to serve certain types of people. But plenty other, and less palatable, regulations have "piled on" in the intervening years, and some sorting-out seems to be in order.

Nicky and I stopped by JJ last Sunday and picked up four pounds of coffee beans for old time's sake. I may go one more time myself before the place shuts down.