Cafes continue to come up with creative strategies to safely remain open to the public, despite the setbacks and challenges of COVID-based restrictions. Joe Maxx Coffee Co., at 869 Santa Fe Drive, has come up with a novel approach to combat reduced foot traffic in the Art District on Santa Fe: a lending library.
Joe Maxx counts itself among the many restaurants, bars and coffee shops that have seen a significant decline in sales because of capacity restrictions. "The Art District is starting to become a bit of a ghost town," says Charlotte Johnson, the coffee shop's general manager. "The community is getting hit so hard; no one is walking around, and we can’t do First Fridays anymore."
In addition to planning several socially distanced, ticketed events like a tarot reading and succulent planting classes, Johnson has also filled shelves with books that customers can check out. "I'm trying to get more community happening," the GM explains.
Joe Maxx is a small chain founded in Ohio; the Denver outpost's owners, Lahna Saccone and Nicholas Carpaso, recently moved away from Denver, leaving Johnson in charge of operations. Her first job as acting manager was to permanently close the Joe Maxx Highland location, in Plaza 38 at Lowell, in July, which allowed her to focus her attention and energy on the Santa Fe shop.
"I wanted to do [the library] last year, and it never really happened. Then I became manager, so I made it happen," Johnson notes. She reached out to the Denver Public Library for donations and catalogued a starting collection of about fifty books, along with the familiar library checkout cards and date stamps.
"[DPL] gave us a mix, which was really appreciated, because I was worried it would be a bunch of reject books — but they gave us a good mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry from all time periods," the GM adds. Also included were some graphic novels and reference books. Given that all of DPL's locations remain closed, customers might appreciate the ability to browse Joe Maxx's small collection in person.
Johnson herself enjoyed browsing as she unpacked the boxes and set up the bookshelves. "I saw The Devil Wears Prada when I was a kid, and I found the book in there. I didn’t even know that was a book," she states. "There's also a lot of Jane Austen stuff that’s great, too."
Lending works on classic technology: the honor system. You give your contact information to the barista, and in turn you get a due date stamped in your book of choice to check out for a month. A text or e-mail notification will remind you when the book is due and give you the option to renew. "I wanted to bring back the nostalgia and that old-school feel when you went into a library when you’re a kid," Johnson explains. "Everything now is just electronic."
She notes that the pandemic has just disconnected everyone further, and she hopes a simple step like sharing a book will help customers feel like part of the community.
"We're trying to get more people reading. Cafes might have a huge bookstore, but they’re usually selling the books," she says. With current capacity mandates at 25 percent, only seven guests can be in the shop at any given time. So while lingering over coffee and a good book at the shop is not a possibility right now, customers can take a book and coffee to go to create a similar experience at home. (A beverage purchase is encouraged but not required.)
And Joe Maxx is adhering to health and safety guidelines: Johnson sanitizes the books, and the shop has a "bouncer" at special events to ensure that capacity limits aren't exceeded. The cafe is currently open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, which provides ample time to check out a good book.
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