The community support that Donkey Coffee, 17 W. Washington St., received during COVID-19 allowed the business to stay open during the pandemic. Recently, students and community members have been eager to support Athens companies after many businesses reopened.
“We're super busy,” Ben Ziff, manager at Donkey Coffee, said. “Realistically, we're busier than we've ever been. This fall semester has been amazing. People have just been really, really supportive of local businesses. I think a lot of people that would normally maybe make a Keurig pod at home have been actually making the trek out to go to a coffee shop just to try and support places that have been trying to make it through this time.”
Because Athens coffee shops are so close to Ohio University, they’re typically crowded with students and faculty members alike. Some professors even host their office hours at local coffee shops. To Timothy Wasserman, manager at Court Street Coffee, 67 S. Court St., the student-professor connections that can be cultivated at coffee shops are especially refreshing to see.
“One of the things that I think we see a lot of is faculty meeting with students and getting coffee together, whether that's based on some kind of professional meeting, or even not professional, where it's just a professor catching up with someone who they had several years before,” Wasserman said. “I just think that that's a really unique experience to watch happen.”
Coffee shops serve as an asset to communities. They offer a place for people to gather and socialize, while also being a source to the public for community events. Coffee shops also often promote music, art and social justice. For instance, Donkey Coffee hosts weekly open mic night and "Designated Space," which is a poetry, prose and spoken word open stage, according to Donkey Coffee’s website. These events provide an outlet for artists to showcase their work. The coffee shop also offers an alcohol-free way to be social.
“I think having shops that are open late gives a lot of people who wouldn't necessarily be comfortable going to a bar or something like that — maybe they just don't want to be around alcohol, maybe they're too young — it gives them a place to just hang out at night,” Ziff said. “You can be social with people in a public setting without being in a bar, which in Athens, I think is hard to find.”
Coffee shops provide artistic and musical expression that people might not experience otherwise. Wasserman explained that coffee shops are a part of a larger atmosphere with other surrounding companies. This atmosphere provides a mutually beneficial relationship among businesses.
“I think that there's a lot of room for art,” Wasserman said. “I'm a big fan of the bookstore next door; other things to be highlighted that people normally don't take time out of their day to stop and look at – whether it's visual art, written art, music, it forces people to experience that for a brief amount of time, and exposes them to that. I think that that's also really beneficial.”
As finals approach, many Athens coffee shops are crowded with students who are trying to stay on top of their schoolwork as the semester comes to a close. Sydney Lent, a fifth-year student studying communication studies, goes to coffee shops often because they offer Wi-Fi.
“I don't have Wi-Fi at home, so I have to have a place to go where I can work on homework, so that is either a place like this or the library,” Lent said. “Coffee shops are a big part of my semester right now, just trying to get through homework and stuff.”
Both employees and students cherish being able to have face-to-face interactions with each other once again. As business begins to resemble what it was pre-pandemic, many in the Athens community look forward to sharing more time together in local coffee shops.
“It's almost a hopeful feeling,” Ziff said. “I love having all the students back. It's such an important, vibrant part of what makes Athens, Athens, is our student population. Being able to have everybody back in the shop is great.”