One evening in mid-June, Café Buunni in Inwood, New York City, was packed with people for an open day to launch their new Ethiopian menu. Traders Sarina Prasabi and Elias Gurmu, Nepalese and Ethiopian respectively, flooded the crowd with bright smiles and samples of free food.
For many customers, this is the first time they have returned to a cafe since the start of the pandemic.
The pandemic has hit cafes hard. According to a study of the Global Allegra Coffee Portal, “The branded coffee segment in the United States will be valued at $ 36 [billion], a drop of 24% over the past 12 months mainly due to the disruption of Covid-19. “The stores suffered a $ 11.5 billion drop in sales. Jeffrey Young, Founder and CEO of Allegra Group, remarked: Business environment in living memory.”
This is one of the reasons why this gathering in Buunni is particularly meaningful, both for owners and for customers. Cafes are more than just a place for a quick drink. They are a real “third place” where visitors can be creative, relax and build relationships.
According to Prabasi, reopening cafes across New York means bringing communities together and allowing service-centric businesses to regain part of their identity.
“Ethiopian coffee is really about the picking,” Prabasi said. “So when we started the business, it was the feeling. We want to bring that hospitality, that feeling of community. When the pandemic started, and we couldn’t have people here, for us, it was really difficult, because not only are we losing business, but the whole identity of the company. ”
For many people who frequent cafes, being able to access them again after lockdown simply means having a place to be productive and away from distractions. Simek Shropshire, a 25-year-old paralegal, says she and her roommate missed the cafe atmosphere. “We both worked from home so it would be nice to have a change of scenery,” said Shropshire.
For other New Yorkers, reopening cafes has creative benefits. Karen Lowe is an artist who has also worked in the design of retail fashion catalogs.
“I think we’re a social group of people, I think we’re people watchers,” Loew said of New Yorkers.
Having worked in fashion retail catalogs, Loew also can’t help but notice what people are wearing; in cafes, she sometimes imagines the lives of people behind their clothes. Loew’s husband Paul Backalenick, who is a novelist, says looking at people in cafes sometimes helps him portray people realistically.
“I sometimes see someone who could be a character in one of my books or my short stories,” Backalenick said. “I’ll notice how they dress, or talk, or how their hair is, or their build, because I can use that as a character.”
And for some customers, being back in cafes feels like an immediate mental health boost. Arline Cruz, a 37-year-old health program director, says visiting the cafes allowed her to experience the city’s diversity.
“I saw girlfriends sitting together, catching up, I saw couples having dinner,” she said. “Just to see life in the city, especially because I work at home in front of my computer, to see people, to be with people, it feels good.”
Read more about Salon’s Coffee Week