A cof­fee break

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Paul Schott

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.”

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

An­drew Pezzi­menti, man­ager of Lorca in down­town Stam­ford, makes a pour-over cof­fee on Thurs­day.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

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.

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