By MADELINE HUGHES
Before ordering coffee, neighbors Roger Preis and Ted Johnson put their coats down at the table just inside the side door at Village Wine and Coffee. The tables out front by the window and next to the wood stove are routinely their top choice.
“We come here all the time,” Preis said. “Along with everyone else.”
They agreed it’s nice to have a place to talk, and that the coffee shop is a great addition to the community. The warm yellow walls, artwork and wood stove create a cozy atmosphere where people can connect with neighbors and friends.
Shop owner Kevin Clayton recently decided to reserve a few of his favorite tables for conversations when he noticed people were spreading out with laptops on the three big tables by the windows.
Preis and Johnson choose one of those three tables reserved for “conversation only” on Tuesday morning.
They talk about anything and everything, Johnson said. “We always see our friends and neighbors.”
Preis and Johnson’s friend Stacey Sigmon walks over to say hi. She was at a corner table doing work on her laptop before going into the office.
“It’s our home away from home,” Sigmon said of the coffee shop. “I get things done here every morning before I go to work.”
People have been gathering at the historic brick building at the corner of Shelburne Road and Bay Road since 1850, explained Clayton. In his 14 years of owning the shop, he has cultivated a community space for people to gather, get work done, or anything else.
“In a restaurant you eat, pay, leave,” Clayton said. “In a coffee shop, that cup of coffee is your ticket to do anything.”
He said that includes chatting with a friend, getting caught up on some work, reading a book, or just taking the coffee to go.
“A cup of coffee in front of you allows us to sit in front of each other and talk here,” Clayton said.
As the owner of the shop, Clayton has to manage people in the space, and make sure customers can experience what they individually come to his coffee shop for. Two limited resources Clayton is trying to manage: seating and parking.
That’s why after working with his staff, Clayton placed cards on three tables, asking people to use those tables for conversations instead of using computers or tablets.
This is not a new phenomena, August First Bakery and Cafe in Burlington instituted a similar policy banning screens from the bakery in 2014, which is partly where Clayton got the idea. He knew he wanted to put his own spin on it for his customers.
The card on three of the front tables reads: “This table is for coffee and conversation only. Please use the bars or smaller tables for laptops and tables. Thank you.”
He also changed the WiFi name to “share tables need coffee?” — a subtle hint to try and encourage people to share tables when space is tight.
“We want people to be more aware with laptops,” he said. “Most people don’t have the understanding of business economics,”
Keeping customers at tables happy and helping the flow of customers who are coming for their to-go cups, or staying longer, are all part of the equation.
“We want to provide tables for people who want to come in and chat,” along with tables for people to come in and use their devices, Clayton said. The recent expansion of his business, moving the wine shop to the adjoining room next door and adding more tables in the back, has added more space for people to sit with their cup of coffee.
“It’s not saying we don’t want you here,” Clayton said. “It’s a small coffee shop and people like it. It’s cozy. This might be someone’s only social interaction, and we want to make it accommodating for that.”
Clayton knows people like Sigmon come to his shop to get work done. He also recalled one study group of UVM medical students who met weekly at his shop. Other times, his shop might be the only place kids from neighboring schools can go when their parents are running late to pick them up, he added.
Once there was a Japanese woman in Shelburne for a few days, and she visited the coffee shop to work on her laptop. When she asked Clayton to print a document for her, he said he gladly obliged. However, it was all in Japanese. It wasn’t until six months later that he received a copy of her book in the mail.
“It was about her struggle with losing her son to cancer,” he explained, and he is very aware that his shop is a public place.
“I’d never want to restrict anyone,” he said.
Since the little signs have emerged, some people move them, or blatantly ignore them about half the time, Clayton said. Once he found a card on the wood stove, which was a surprise because of the potential fire hazard posed.
More than anything, Clayton said, the new policy is meant to prompt people into thinking about how they interact with the space.
“I think we have made more people happy,” he said. “People can get tables easier to talk with their friends.”