A coffee break
If national chains are pulling back, there are more than enough independent shops around to give people their caffeine fix.
A coffee giant has shrunk its presence in southwestern Connecticut, while many of its smaller, locally owned counterparts are doing the opposite.
Starbucks permanently closed its store at the Ferguson Library, in downtown Stamford, last Monday following an announcement it would focus on growing in areas with lower concentrations of its shops. But the downsizing would not greatly affect independent coffee establishments, which are thriving in Stamford and throughout Fairfield County.
“Starbucks is so different from us,” said Leyla Dam, owner of the Lorca coffee shops in downtown Stamford and Greenwich. “Their offerings are different, especially their menu and type of coffee. Their coffee is dark-roasted; ours is light-roasted. Starbucks never affected us in a negative way.”
Finding a niche
Independent coffee shops like Lorca accept operating in areas dominated by big chains. Within a 1-mile radius of Lorca, there are now one company-operated and three licensed Starbucks cafes and five Dunkin’ Donuts stores.
Dam opened her 550-square-foot storefront at 125 Bedford St., in 2011, 12 years after the opening of the Starbucks shop at the library.
“It’s nice to have cafes nearby like Starbucks, so you have concentrations of shops in one area,” Dam said. “That way, people recognize that this is a coffee area.”
Reflecting the success of the Stamford shop, Dam last year opened a Greenwich store in Fleishers Craft Butchery’s shop, at 160 E. Putnam Ave., in the town’s Cos Cob section.
“That strip has all these gourmet shops, so people will go there a as one-stop shop to grab stuff for dinner and then grab a cup of coffee,” Dam said. “It worked out beautifully for us.”
Independent coffee places are also gaining traction in northern Fairfield County. In downtown Danbury, Barrister’s Coffee Co. opened a shop last January, at 1 West St.
The establishment has quickly gained a following among local residents and workers and college students. It shares its building with the Danbury branch of Naugatuck Valley Community College and stands about a mile from the Western Connecticut State University campus.
Focusing on its young customers, it offers 20 percent discounts to Western Connecticut and Naugatuck Valley students and has set up study desks inside the shop.
“Our mantra has always been to do something that separates us from the likes of Starbucks. Why would people come here if it offered the exact same things as Starbucks?” said Barrister’s General Manager Jordan Jones. “We’re super friendly, and we’re glad to have anyone, whether they grab and go or come to sit and hang out. We want to create an environment that is welcoming to everyone.”
In Fairfield, Candlewood Market opened last December in Sportsplex, at 85 Mill Plain Road.
“Our plan here was to have an upscale coffee shop, with everything and more than what a Starbucks would have,” Candlewood owner Tony Inzero said in a recent interview. “We’re roasting fresh, and we’re not having burnt roasts or anything like that.”
A number of other coffee shops have opened in the past year in Fairfield County, including Humbled Coffeehouse, at 575 Hope St., in Stamford’s Springdale section, and Coffee Spot, at 24 Harbor Point Road in Stamford’s Harbor Point neighborhood.
Many area workers and residents frequent multiple coffee shops. Tammy Felenstein, Stamford-based executive director of sales for Halstead Real Estate, goes to the Starbucks in the High Ridge Shopping Center, which also houses her firm’s local office. At the same time, she is a regular at Humbled, near her home in Springdale.
“Starbucks is a nice place to have informal meetings with clients or work associates outside of our normal office,” Felenstein said. “From a real estate perspective, walkability is more and more an important factor, so Humbled’s presence there definitely positively affects the property values nearby. And what better place to walk to than Humbled, with its warm and inviting atmosphere.”
Room for growth
The Ferguson Library could bring in another coffee shop to fill the Starbucks space, but it would also evaluate other options. It is looking for a tenant with which it would partner on activities and promotions.
Library officials want to hear community feedback and then send out a request for proposals. A new tenant probably would not move in until sometime next year.
“We loved having Starbucks there, and it was a surprise to us to learn they would be leaving,” Ferguson Library President Knapp said last week. “But we now see this as a real opportunity to look at the space. We just completed a strategic plan, so what we do next has to fit in with our mission and values. We want the next tenant to be a great partner with us.”
Meanwhile, independent shops are pursuing their own growth plans.
Barrister’s is working on a second location, which would likely be in New Milford.
“Our plan is to see where this business takes us,” Jones said. “We’re hopeful we’ll keep growing.”
Lorca’s Dam plans to eventually open a third shop in lower Fairfield County.
“There’s a lot to be said for making sure your product and staff are nailed down before moving too quickly” Dam said. “I’ll never rush the process.”
Andrew Pezzimenti, manager of Lorca in downtown Stamford, makes a pour-over coffee on Thursday.
Customers place their orders at the counter inside Lorca coffee shop at 125 Bedford St. in downtown Stamford on Thursday.
A pour-over coffee sits on the counter in Lorca.