Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Downtown is broken, and the end of a favourite coffee shop proves it

The departure of the St. John's coffee shop Fixed will mean a lot more than one less place to buy coffee, writes Andrew Sampson.

The departure of Fixed will mean a lot more than one less place to buy coffee

For the past seven years, Fixed Coffee has been a community hub in St. John's. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Businesses come and go, but the closure of Fixed Coffee and Baking is a loss to the St. John's community that will reverberate for a long time. 

To an outsider, it might seem like just another coffee shop where a latte costs $5, the bagels are overpriced, and hipsters hang out. 

But if you were a regular — or are connected to the local arts community — chances are it meant a lot more than that.

It was the rare business that could truly claim to be a community hub, and the type of pillar a colourful downtown is built on. 

The city won't be the same without it. 

Place to connect

Fixed was the kind of place where you could put names to faces: get to know the bassist in a local punk band, meet the author whose work you read online, reconnect with an old friend you hadn't seen in a while.

It was also the rare spot where you could go to socialize downtown where alcohol wasn't being consumed giddily, where you could read quietly, work on a project, laugh with your pals, and simply be around other people.

I know I felt a deep comfort knowing that — if I was home alone and stuck inside my head — I could leave my house and walk downtown and go to Fixed and run into one of my friends, or find a friendly ear.

It was there where I met so many of my friends, like Julia, Michelle, and Nicole, and where people who were previously just late-night acquaintances at shows on the Deck or the Ship became lifelong friends.

On Wednesday, Fixed Coffee owner Jon Howse announced the shop will close on March 4. (David Gonzalez)

Sure, some of us complained about the place sometimes, or groaned about how we always ran into people we didn't want to see there (like, say, an ex, or a prof waiting on a paper) but that's only because we took Fixed for granted.

How rare is it that you can live in a place where you can hop, skip, and jump down the road and see all your friends?

When I try and describe the reasons why I stay in St. John's, instead of moving back home to Halifax, I think of places like this.

The impact is hard to quantify, but it's undeniable.

A creative corner

I think about all the summers I spent outside at Fixed, sipping iced coffee and sitting on the picnic table,  or reading a paperback and flicking ants off my legs while sitting in the grass by the National War Memorial. I hesitate to imagine the void that Fixed will leave when summer rolls around.

And when I look at the wall of local records at Fred's, or go see the latest movie filmed in St. John's, it's easy for me to imagine that a lot of these creative projects started in a booth at Fixed, over a warm cup of coffee, and with the spark of an idea.  

Sure, the coffee might have looked expensive, but Fixed was an affordable place to go. Most people can't afford to eat out every night, or parade down George Street every weekend, or spring for tickets to a Growlers or Edge game every chance they get, but finding the money for a coffee is a realistic thing.

Here's what I worry about. 

I worry that when Fixed closes, a community will disappear, and that people will stay home more and interact less with each other.

We talk a lot about how downtown St. John's has seen better days, but the one thing that will really ring the area's death knell is if more places like Fixed go belly up.

The downtown can't be vibrant if there's no reason to keep going back there.

And then there's the staff

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the staff at Fixed.

They were community builders of the finest kind, opening up their space to young cooks who wanted to test out their skills at pop-up events, hosting fundraisers for local music and arts festivals, letting organizations host political discussions there, and just generally being there to hold the line.

For a while, I was even a little jealous of the staff. 

To go to work everyday with some of your closest friends and get to do something you like and that afforded you the downtime to also work on your creative passions — isn't that, in so many ways, the dream?

It made me hopeful to see some of my peers make a go at it in a city where youth often have no choice but to leave and search for work. 

In addition to slinging coffee, many of the staff at Fixed are artists and musicians. Their work is often displayed up front, along with a variety of music made here in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Looking for a buyer

It's worth noting that the closure of this particular business is about more than the economy, or problems downtown, including the exodus of some major employers to buildings in the suburbs. 

Owner Jon Howse broke the news earlier this week in a letter shared on social media. In it, he mentioned that the store was busier than ever. 

But for local businesses, the margin for error is small, and a few tough financial decisions over the years contributed to Fixed's closure.

In a letter shared on Facebook, Jon Howse said he's hoping an outside buyer can take over the lease at Fixed and reopen a new coffee shop, with his existing staff. (Carolyn Stokes/CBC)

Howse said his main concern right now is for the 15 staff who work there.

He also said if someone were to step in and sign a lease and purchase the shop's coffee equipment, their jobs could be saved. It's a Hail Mary option, but one that someone might be considering.

Because they wouldn't just be buying a business.

They'd be inheriting a community.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Andrew Sampson is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.


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