By JAN WILLMS
For the past 10 years, there has been a coffee shop at the corner of Thomas and Hamline. But now, Groundswell Coffee is celebrating an expansion and will be offering food, selling arts and crafts and by April 12, hopes to have its beer and wine license in place.
To assist with funding the expansion, Hamline Midway neighbors Seth McCoy and Tim Gilbert, co-owners of Groundswell, are offering their customers an opportunity to invest in the shop and have a stake in its success.
They are forming a Founders Club Membership. For a $1,000 donation, the donor receives a free cup of coffee or tea or a free glass of wine or beer for the rest of his or her life.
“We realized not everyone could afford that amount, so for $500, you get the same for two years; for $250, you get the same for one year,” McCoy said. “If you calculate it out, you get your money’s worth. We need the capital, and the donor gets the free beverages.”
“We can go to the bank,” McCoy continued. “In fact, we will have to go to the bank. But it is much better to have people from the neighborhood help us with this. We need the money for our building, and we will provide a good return on the investment.”
McCoy said the owners of the building at 1342 Thomas Ave. thought the space would work as a coffee shop, but they realized after a year they were not suited to that business.
“They sold it to Erika Hiller, who partnered with J&S Bean Factory. That’s what it was when I moved here from Chicago,” McCoy said. Hiller sold the business, and it tanked, according to McCoy.
He and his neighbor, Tim, decided they could step in and try to resuscitate the shop, and they have been operating it the past three years with a lot of volunteer help.
But in September 2011 the ceiling collapsed. The doors were closed while the necessary repairs were made. The space was transformed and opened again after three months of work. This time a paid staff took over, and Groundswell partnered with Dogwood Coffee to train baristas. Both the owners worked other jobs but put in as much time as possible to continue to provide a gathering place for the Hamline Midway community.
In December 2012 the neighboring business, Borealis Yarns, closed its doors.
“When the yarn shop closed, we were sad to see it go,” McCoy related. “We had a good collaboration with them. A lot of people would knit and drink coffee.”
He said he and Gilbert were concerned about what type of business might take the yarn shop’s place. “We were worried that a chain or a tobacco shop might come in,” McCoy said. “So we got together with friends and talked about whether it was viable to expand.”
He said the original coffee shop was not really equipped for food; it didn’t have the space. In June, McCoy and Gilbert signed the lease for the former yarn shop space, and plans are in full swing to increase the scope of Groundswell Coffee.
Megan Gruelich will bake pastries for the shop. Johnny Becker serves as head chef and Jessie James will bring in arts and crafts from the neighborhood, allowing local artists to sell the pieces they make at home.
Gene Hartsock, owner of Hartland Shoe Repair, said he is glad the coffee shop is expanding. He moved his business to the St. Thomas and Hamline area in 1992. His building is about 60 years old and was formerly an alterations shop and then a coin dealer’s shop.
He recalled a stamp collector was once in the area and for many years a baseball card shop.
The building next door to him was built in the 1800s, and for awhile served as apartments for clergy members of St. Columba.
“This has been a good corner,” he noted, “four short blocks from University Avenue and right off Hamline.”