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Local coffee shop builds community between South Bend, Saint Mary’s students

| Friday, January 27, 2017

On a fall day last year, first year Elizabeth Polstra walked into The Local Cup, a new coffee shop on the northwest side of South Bend. Polstra’s first visit to the shop was to drop off her friend and coworker, fellow first year Annie Maguire.

“It’s like a little community,” Polstra said. “Everyone’s there, everyone’s always talking. There’s always so many people there — it’s a great place.”

Both students work at The Local Cup as part of the federal work-study program. Maguire said she spoke with Rebekah DeLine, director of Saint Mary’s Office for Civic and Social Engagement, who suggested Maguire look into working for The Local Cup.

“[DeLine] had mentioned that they had more opportunities for the federal work-study positions, so I was talking to her about how I could get involved with the community and also get a work-study position in South Bend,” Maguire said. “She recommended The Local Cup.”

The Local Cup, run by four South Bend residents, is open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoon. The Local Cup has multiple functions within the South Bend community; not only is it a coffee shop, but it also serves as a community center, Maguire said.

“Apart from The Local Cup coffee shop, there are community spaces that several groups in the community use to host events,” Maguire said. “We have poetry slams, we have songs for peace, we have instrumental nights, and it really allows people in the community to bring people together based on interests. The coffee house itself is like a great union of the community space.”

This community continues within the coffee shop as well. The Local Cup not only hires college students as team leaders and college mentors, but it also offers paid internships to high school students in the area, Maguire said.

This dynamic allows for a unique work environment, Polstra said.

“[The other employees are] really helpful,” Polstra said. “I’m really glad I’m working with them. When you work with an adult, it’s a little bit more intimidating, but people your own age are more understanding.”

In addition, The Local Cup takes on a role in the community with its ties to the Near Northwest Neighborhood, a nonprofit organization that aims to better South Bend and also pays for The Local Cup’s rent, Maguire said.

“That’s just kind of how we keep ourselves afloat,” Maguire said. “You know, we don’t have any prices so it’s hard to maintain that sense of security.”

The Local Cup has no prices because it operates on a “pay-it-forward” system, rather than a more typical style of business, Polstra said.

“Their pay system is totally different than normal,” Polstra said. “They go by this ‘pay-it-forward’ method. So, when you come in, you can either take your coffee as a gift or you can choose to pay it forward. We don’t give numbers — you choose the donation that you want to give.”

This system allows The Local Cup employees to interact with the customers more as a friend and neighbor than transactionally, Maguire said.

“Some customers pay what they would normally pay at another coffee shop, some customers pay the change in their pocket, other people accept the coffee for free and each payment option is completely acceptable,” Maguire said. “We really run on other people’s generosity, which changes the dynamic of the interaction between the workers and the customers.”

The interaction of the employees and the customers is central to The Local Cup — they strive to give “coffee and a conversation,” Maguire said.

“These people aren’t interested in the commercial aspect of interacting, they are interested more in the community and building a relationship with their customers and viewing them as neighbors and friends,” Maguire said. “That struck me the most. That’s something you don’t find at Starbucks.”

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About Jordan Cockrum

Jordan Cockrum is a junior at Saint Mary's studying Communications and Humanistic Studies.

Contact Jordan