A good coffee shop can grow to be a big part of a community.The Central District has a new coffee house at the corner of 23rd and Cherry. And its owners and longtime Central District residents, Sara and Rachel Brereton, have community-building hopes for 701 Coffee.
“There’s a lot of action going on around here, but there’s not really a lot of places for people to go,” Sara tells CHS.
701 Coffee opened in late March with a two-year lease following a string of businesses ranging from corner stores to a Metro PCS that have cycled in and out of the space at 23rd and Cherry over the years. Despite the space being at a heavily trafficked intersection and close to major neighborhood institutions such as Garfield High School and the community center, nothing’s lasted for long.
“I think it [the shop] will turn a dead corner into a thriving corner,” said Sara.
For now, 701 Coffee is what it sounds like: a coffee shop. But its owners have hopes that the shop will settle into the community as a neighborhood hub. Sara says that sandwiches, fresh fruit smoothies, waffles, and plans for community oriented events such as open mics, Sounders game viewings, discounts for Garfield High School students, and community discussions on issues critical to Seattle are all in the works.
Community input is highly valued at 701 Coffee, and a suggestion box is front and center at the counter. Someone has apparently already hinted that the shop should make some sort of visible live feed of bus arrival and departure times around the intersection. Sarah says idea is “epic,” and will probably come in the form of a mounted tablet, but she’s leaving that one to her kids who can navigate mobile apps.
As for the taste, Sara says it is “along the lines of Bauhaus and Vivace,” but with a personal touch of course. The shop also uses Chocolati chocolate for its mochas and coco.
Sara says some of the inspiration for 701 Coffee came from the late Black Coffee Co-Op on in terms of the role it filled on the Hill as being a gathering place for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. And 701 Coffee plans to similarly welcome everyone with open arms, no matter how much money (or lack there of) is in your wallet.
“Some people just want to get out of the rain and sit in a space and relax,” said Sara. “I want it [701 Coffee] to be friendly, loving, compassionate, to all people, not just one group.”
She added that some of her experiences in coffee shops around the Hill and their treatment of perceived low-income or homeless patrons have influenced the accepting and welcoming stance 701 coffee is taking.
“[Some] businesses are rude to people who struggle and it bothers me,” she said. “I understand because I’ve struggled like that. It’s just a tough situation. I’ve been on that side before.”
Sara and her family have faced hard times in the past, and have lived in affordable or transitional and affordable housing numerous times such as Yesler Terrace or YWCA transitional housing during the rough patches when money got tight. In 2013, the family acquired permanent housing in the Central District. Sara worked in the drywall business, while Rachel still is a UPS driver, two incomes which were poured into establishing 701 Coffee.
The shop was originally scheduled to open in November, but, “like most construction projects,” the renovations ended up being more expensive and taking longer to complete than expected.
Sara said she plans to keep prices affordable at 701 and hopes to establish some sort of “pay-it-forward” system where individuals can provide services to the shop in exchange for food and coffee drinks..”
But the owners said they realize that to maintain a lasting business with the compassionate approach, they’ll also need to generate revenue.
Sara said she also is sensitive to opening a white-owned business in the Central District.
“There’s a lot of gentrification going on,” said Sara. “I don’t think the CD should get whiter, which it is.”
“I’d like to see a neighborhood look nice and the residents that have always been there still be there and enjoy that … [but] the way that the system is structured, that isn’t what happens,” she said.
The building that 701 coffee is currently housed in is for sale, according to Sara.
“We all [as a Seattle community] allow this [gentrification] to continue, and it’s crazy, it’s madness that it goes on … there’s damage being done right now.”
“I don’t know what the answer is, what the solution is, but we have to cultivate the diverse community,” she said.
Sara says that physically and culturally occupying space via establishing small businesses such as 701 Coffee is may be one potentially effective form of resistance to the unrelenting market forces and economic inequalities that result in gentrification. Such spaces also help keep communities strong and tight-knit she says, adding that locally owned small businesses can be a form of empowerment for residents.
But establishing businesses takes capital, something which Sara knows not everyone has readily available.
“Most people don’t get to where we’re at. They just don’t get there. And I’m thankful to be here.”
701 Coffee is located at 701 23rd Ave. It plans to be open daily from 6 AM to 9 PM, serving coffee beverages, pastries, and more.