ROGERS PARK — With coronavirus restricting indoor dining and drinking, a local coffee shop has found a unique use for its indoor seating area: turning it into a gift store.
Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis Ave., has expanded into the retail gift business to go along with its coffee and food operation. The gift shop made its debut Nov. 28, which was Small Business Saturday.
The gift shop makes use of the cafe’s seating area during the indoor dining ban — but it has proved so popular it will likely stick around in some capacity once coronavirus restrictions are lifted, Charmers Cafe co-owner Carrie Flynn said.
“We definitely did not plan on being in the retail business,” Flynn said with a laugh. “It’s been bananas. You have to do what you have to do.”
Charmers Cafe opened in Jarvis Square in 2006, but it closed in 2013 and reopened in 2016. Flynn and Annie Cathcart — veterans of the local restaurant industry — bought Charmers in early 2020.
Flynn and Cathcart renovated the cafe and altered the business model, bringing in locally made ice cream, new food items and selling potted plants. A small grab-and-go retail component was in the works, the owners said earlier this year.
But then the coronavirus pandemic came.
Charmers Cafe was able to maintain business during the pandemic thanks to its large outdoor seating area, which was expanded as part of the city’s outdoor dining program. The cafe also made use of a takeout window.
Outdoor seating is now less of an option due to the winter weather.
Flynn and Cathcart dabbled in retail sales at Charmers, selling plants and flowers. They heard from customers who sought more gift shop options in Rogers Park and the co-owners thought they could deliver on that demand.
“We’ve been following what the neighbors want, and of course we want to stay in business,” Flynn said.
“People always mention Evanston or Andersonville [as places to shop]. We thought, ‘Let’s have something here where people can get boutique gifts.’ We just went with it.”
The cafe owners had to take a “crash course” in retail, and enlisted the help of friends in the business, Flynn said. They sought out wholesalers and local makers, wanting to sell goods from the area.
The shop has a wide variety of gifts, including art prints and notebooks, tea and coffee supplies, puzzles, toys and Christmas-themed items. Almost everything is priced under $40 so as to be as accessible as possible to Rogers Park residents, Flynn said.
The response has been positive, she said. It has allowed Charmers Cafe to retain all 10 of its staffers, a rarity in the restaurant industry these days.
Charmers Cafe made so many connections with local artists and makers that it spearheaded a craft fair taking place outdoors in Jarvis Square. The craft fair is Saturday and Sunday. For more information, click here.
Once indoor dining returns, the gift shop will likely look different. At some point, the retail items may shift to the Greenview Avenue storefront that is attached to the cafe.
Adapting their business has allowed the cafe owners to stay afloat during a pandemic that has wrecked the economy — but it hasn’t been easy, Flynn said.
“We say we’re doing ‘COVID-well,'” she said. “It’s been a challenge, but we enjoy it.”