I’m sitting and writing this in the southwest corner of The Meeting Place, overlooking Trinity Church. We call this area of the café the Terrace.
When we opened The Meeting Place on Market over eight years ago, more than anything else, we envisioned a place that would bring people together. I admit a little bit of idealism here, but I saw people sitting together and talking and laughing over a mocha or a cappuccino, Italian style. I pictured a guy with a guitar entertaining on the weekends, business people relaxing in the afternoon, and soccer moms having a mocha while their kids color.
And over the last eight years I have seen this and more. However, the business environment has drastically changed since then, and we’ve been slow to change with it.
From the beginning The Meeting Place on Market was a long shot. We were advised to stay away from downtown Lima. We were denied funding because of our location. But we believed in the idea, and based on the numbers we had, the numbers of people working downtown, the competition, the profit margins, we had a feasible business model.
Much has changed since then. St. Rita’s, the largest downtown employer, added a Starbuck’s and full-service cafeteria. The two banks surrounding us closed their downtown branches. Two Paneras, another Starbuck’s and a Biggby opened, and McDonald’s started serving gourmet coffee drinks and smoothies (I use those terns very loosely). The price of coffee went up more than 40%. And as we all know, the economy has been moving at the speed of molasses, if that, while inflation continues to rise.
But although we are downtrodden, we do not despair.
We are turning a corner, and I am idealistic yet again. I am hopeful that out of the crucible of financial leadenness, we will come out stronger than before. And this is our plan:
- New hours. In order to reduce dead time, we have changed our hours so that we close at 5:30 pm nightly. This also presents a new opportunity – we will be available for public or private events after that time. Fundraisers, concerts, meetings, parties, classes and more can be held at our location after hours.
- Local focus. We want to help local producers succeed, and hopefully contribute to our success as well. We will be looking for creators of high quality food items, such as honey, jams, chocolates, flour, spices, and more, and we will be offering shelf space for sales of such.
- Technology. We have been working on a robust online ordering system for over two years now. We hope to be able to release it within the next month, giving our customers the ability to order their food and drink online for almost instant pickup.
- Community. We will continue to focus on people – on our customers, our employees, local musicians and artists, and fellow business owners. We will support our friends and neighbors downtown. We will encourage everyone to shop at local, independent businesses.
- Coffee. Look for even more varieties of coffee, including coffee from some new sources. Look for more fair trade/ organic options. Watch for classes on coffee brewing, using a French press, using a moka pot, espresso drink tips, and more.
On Friday I asked for a sign. It’s been a tiring couple of years for all of us. We are in a financial crunch and sometimes there is a time to give up. So I asked for a sign.
The only sign I was given was the happiness I saw on people’s faces who were participating one way or the other in events at The Meeting Place on Market. I hope that’s enough. I believe that’s enough. That happiness is the light that keeps us going, that keeps us dreaming up new ideas, changing and adapting and innovating. It’s not measurable, and it doesn’t show up on balance sheets. But for now, it is enough.