By: Hollis Conners
At the corner of Montgomery Road and Brewster Avenue, local citizens are brewing coffee and change.
Community Blend is a new coffee shop and a cooperative (co-op) where all employees are co-owners as well. The shop opened at the beginning of the summer, but has been in the works for over a year.
Ivy Bell is a co-owner and employee there. Originally from Portsmouth, Ohio, she lives in Avondale with her two young children.
“It actually took a couple years for the process, but Community Blend opened May 18,” Bell said. According to the Community Blend Facebook page, the project has been in the works since March 2011.
The shop deals in fair trade coffee, which is “a way of doing business that ultimately aims to keep small farmers an active part of the world marketplace,” according to the website of Equal Exchange, the worker cooperative from which Community Blend buys its product.
“The farmers who pick the coffee beans have their own co-op, so everything that happens here goes through the other co-ops,” Bell said. “We cut out the middleman. So that way, everyone gets the money they actually want instead of selling short because there are so many other people that have to get paid in the process.
“You know, everybody wants their hand out for something. When you buy Equal Exchange coffee, everybody is getting the money that they’re really supposed to have and no one is getting shorted.”
Choosing a cooperative model is not just about profits. The choice also means that the co-owners get to take part in the dynamics of running the business — both the difficulties and the successes.
“It’s been a very good experience,” Bell said. “I know what it’s like to really own a business. Here, you have to keep in mind that this isn’t just someone else’s business. This is partly yours! So you have to grow up a little bit more than you are probably used to and be really ready to take on a lot of responsibility, because it’s a lot of responsibility.
“We’re not just working here. We have to take care of the bills. We have to go out and buy the groceries. We have to do everything. This is our business.”
For Bell, this opportunity is not just about being a part-owner in the business, but also inspiring hope. “In the long run, it’s going to be something you can show your children,” she said. “I have two small kids that look up to me, so this is a very big opportunity for me as well as my kids.”
However, the fledgling coffee shop could be affected by a new Starbucks franchise moving into the University Station complex just down the road.
“A lot of people know about Starbucks and a lot of people don’t really know about us,” Bell said. “But I think we’ll be set aside from them very quickly because, as you can tell by our name ‘Community Blend,’ we are about blending the community and caring about the people who come in here.
“We are going to have entertainment and different things here that showcase that we are about: the community and bringing the community together,” she said. “At Starbucks, you’re not going to feel the warmth that you’ll feel here when you walk in these doors. That’s going to really set us aside from them and hopefully bring us more business when people realize it’s not just about coffee here. We are actually trying to build a community and blend it all together.”
Bell said that she already has a Xavier night in the works. She hopes to pull in a variety of entertainment, including live rap and music performances, a comedian and poetry performances.
“I want to make (Xavier students) know that, hey, we’re here—that this is a place they can come, get away if you want to and make it an enjoyable experience for them, because some of them, I know, are missing home,” she said.