There's Always Room for Jelly

A recent, and harried, visit to the newly renovated King Soopers at 13th Avenue and Speer Boulevard quickly turned into a time-warped version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Because all of the Whos in Whoville could not have found the canning supplies needed to make a last-minute gift of homemade jams and jellies.

Those supplies -- the jars, lids, and pectin in liquid and powdered form -- had been right out on the shelves last Christmas season, back when the store was cramped and dirty but at least stocked.

Was it some conspiracy? Had Y2K-compliant types made off with every last jar in order to lay up a few batches of peach preserves to enjoy during the dark days ahead?

Or had King Soopers simply decided that its hectic-lifestyle customers, who now want their groceries not only pre-cooked, but sliced, diced and ready to serve, simply didn't have the time to indulge in such old housekeeping arts as canning and jelly-making?

A clerk in the aisle where the canning supplies once resided said she didn't know the answer but had been asked the question a hundred times.

An assistant manager said the supplies were somewhere in the back, and he didn't know why the store had decided not to put them out.

A manager referred all further questions to corporate headquarters.

And there, King Soopers spokeswoman Donna Giordano quickly deflated all conspiracy theories. "The plans weren't drawn correctly," she says simply. "They thought they had four feet on the shelves." But when they tried to stock the canning supplies, they discovered they didn't.

So the store is making some adjustments. And come January 12, Giordano promises, the canning supplies will be back in the baking-goods aisle.

And in the meantime? See if your neighbor doesn't have some peach preserves.

Good to the last drop: A little over a year ago, I wrote a story about the Good Company Coffee Shop, at 9875 East Colfax Avenue in Aurora ("On Solid Grounds," December 24, 1998), a unique coffeehouse that employs people who are transitioning out of Aurora Mental Health programs, students in Aurora Public Schools who have cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome, and at-risk students from the APS's Alternative Center. Some days the mix is a little weird, since it includes people who have past substance-abuse problems, some serious mental-health issues, mild retardation. But on most days, Good Company is one of the most welcoming, comfortable and cheap places in the area to grab a cup of joe and a muffin.

So when the article came out, Good Company's manager, Debby Hoffman, said she found herself in the midst of a controversy she never expected. "People were very upset about the story," says Hoffman. "They felt it portrayed us in a negative light. Some of them wanted to know if they could help us sue Westword. But I was so surprised, because I thought the article was as truthful as it should have been. I wouldn't have wanted anyone to sugarcoat the reality of what goes on down here."

What's going on down there is an uncommon group of folks getting past their individual problems to make the coffee shop work. There are the people who have successfully completed the mental-health program but aren't quite ready to re-enter the rat race; the physically challenged students who get practical working skills; the at-risk youth who get a second chance after they've been expelled from school; and the customers, some of whom are AMH clients or relatives of coffee shop helpers, but most of whom are just regular people who live and work in the area.

Thrown into the brew are a variety of local musicians who play at Good Company in order to get some practice before a relatively accepting audience and help raise money for the coffee shop. (Starting January 7, Good Company will have family-friendly Christian rock on alternating Friday nights.) Then there are the volunteers, made up mostly of students' parents, AMH clients and concerned citizens; the local artists and craftspeople who make items for sale at the coffee shop's gift shop; and the occasional oddball who wanders in off Colfax to beg a bite to eat. While Hoffman has a reputation for being a softie, she has a one-meal rule for anyone in need, and she always stops short of handing out money. "Otherwise, we'd never be able to keep the place going," she says.

Since Hoffman took over in March 1998, the coffee shop has been a stepping stone for nearly a hundred people who have either volunteered their services or worked as paid employees. "Not everyone is a success story, of course," says Hoffman. "But the point is, we're here if they want us or need us."

They are what they are -- and they make no apologies for it. "If you'd written the article so that everything sounded fun and happy here all the time, no one would have believed it," she says. "As it stands, we got a lot of national response from people who I guess saw it online, who wanted to know how they could get something going like this, and business has been so much better."

Good Company still doesn't have a hood over the stove, however, so if you find yourself flush with an extra $4,000 as the new year begins, Hoffman would like to hear from you. "We're still making do with woks and roasters," Hoffman laments. "But if you've ever catered a party for a few hundred people using little more than that, you'd know we can't keep that up much longer."

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner