Cafe-libraries, once a hot business trend, are closing in the Joliet area – Shaw Local

Joliet Public Library officials said they haven’t decided what to do with the Book and Bean Cafe space in the future, but the day of the library cafe appears to be fading.

The owners of the Book and Bean Cafe are retiring and closing at the end of this month.

What will happen next is uncertain and it could take months for library management to make a decision as they embark on a strategic plan that will include redevelopment of the Black Road branch where the cafe is located.

“I think they should use it as a cafe,” said Ralph Spork of Minooka, who was at the cafe with his We Got Game board game group, which met there regularly. “So many people depend on the coffee shop.”

The Book and Bean Cafe has been more successful than many library cafes. But often when a library cafe closes, the space is used for something else.

A cafe at the New Lenox Public Library closed in May 2022 and has not been replaced.

New Lenox Library Director Michelle Crosswick said it’s unlikely the cafe will return.

“The biggest challenge is that the space is not a full-service kitchen,” Krooswyck said. “It can be difficult for a vendor to have a menu for the traffic that the library brings.”

Another problem, she said, is that the library’s hours don’t match what might be the best hours for a coffee shop, especially one that focuses on coffee.

That was a challenge at the Book and Bean Cafe, where owner Tammy Duckworth noted that the library’s 9 a.m. hours come after the morning rush that fuels business at most cafes.

“We are limited by our hours to library hours,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth has operated the Book and Bean Cafe since 2011, building a track record that she and her husband, Grady, who co-owns the business, are proud of. They noted that the cafe, which opened alongside the library in 2002, had multiple previous owners.

They also pointed to library cafes that have closed elsewhere.

“People like the concept of it, but they don’t realize how hard it is.”

Lisa Pappas, director of the Plainfield Public Library

“I think we’ve built a thriving community of people who come here for different reasons,” Duckworth said. “It’s safe. It’s happy.”

“The food is amazing,” said customer Jean Cavanaugh of Lockport, another member of the gaming group. “It has great hospitality – a family atmosphere.”

When coffee shops closed, many libraries replaced them with vending machines.

This probably won’t go down well with the Book and Bean crowd, where many of the customers have grown close to Duckworths.

Tammy Duckworth has operated the Book and Bean Cafe at the Joliet Public Library's Black Road branch since 2011. She and her husband, Grady, a co-owner of the business, are retired.  December 2, 2023

But it worked at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, where the cafeteria operator left in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and never returned.

“The people who ran the cafe said most of their business came from selling soft drinks and chips,” Fountaindale principal Paul Mills said. “We’re meeting that demand with the vending machines.”

The days of library coffee are not over.

But the trend that seemed like the wave of the future in the early 2000s, when coffee shops were included in new library building projects, has become the exception rather than the rule.

“People like the concept of it, but they don’t realize how hard it is,” said Plainfield Public Library Director Lisa Pappas.

The Plainfield Library District did not include a full cafeteria in either plan for a new building when it went to voters in failed referendums in 2016 and 2017.

“We were looking to have a coffee shop with vending machines and maybe a Keurig,” Pappas said. “There are a lot of great coffee shops in blocks in our area. Coffee is not hard to find here. If you walk into the library and look at the tables, you will see a lot of coffee mugs.

The White Oak Library branch in Crest Hill, built 10 years ago, is one of the newer libraries in the Joliet area. It is designed without a place for a cafe.

The library has vending machines, but no fresh coffee.

“There’s really not a lot of demand for it,” Crest Hill Library Director Evangeline Stevenson said.

Stevenson said he saw people with cups of coffee from the Speedway gas station next door.

A cafe space with large windows overlooking the Joliet Public Library Black Road Branch was designed into the building, which was constructed in 2002. December 2, 2023

The library cafeteria can still be found in some locations in the Chicago area.

The Wheaton Public Library in DuPage County has a coffee shop operated by Altiro Latin Fusion, which also has a restaurant in town.

“This has been an invaluable addition to the library,” said Wheaton Library Director Betsy Adamowski. “What it really does is give people a place to meet and collaborate. And some people like to study in a noisy environment.”

These are some of the same qualities mentioned by Book and Bean Cafe customers.

The biggest problem at the Wheaton cafe, Adamowski said, is that it hasn’t been open long enough.

The timing problem can work both ways. Although the cafe operator may want to open earlier than the library, the library management wants the cafe to maintain evening hours when the library is open.

The staffing issues that have arisen in the restaurant business since the COVID-19 pandemic may also affect library cafes.

“What we’re finding is that it’s harder to hire than you think,” Adamowski said. “It should be open in the evening. But Altiro closes at 3 o’clock.”

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