ROGERS PARK — When coronavirus closed indoor dining, Charmers Cafe’s owners turned its seating area into a gift shop to survive the pandemic.
It was such a big hit the cafe owners have opened a standalone gift store as they return to indoor dining at Charmers. Horseplay by Charmers opened last week at 7358 N. Greenview Ave., across the street from the coffee shop.
Charmers Cafe got by during the pandemic using a takeout window, the gift shop space and a large outdoor seating area, which is boosted by the Jarvis Square expanded outdoor dining area. But as the outdoor dining season draws to a close, the owners wanted to reopen indoor dining in the space occupied by the gift shop.
But customers didn’t want to see the gift shop leave, owners Annie Cathcart and Carrie Flynn said. They decided to give the retail business its own space.
“We were trying to figure out a way to have both here, but we didn’t want to shrink” the retail space, Flynn said. “We saw the vacant store across the street, and we went for it.”
The 1,000-square-foot Horseplay By Charmers sells an expanded array of what was offered at the cafe: plants, jewelry, art, household goods, puzzles and other gifts. It has added scented items, such as soaps, because their fragrance may have not blended well in the cafe, Flynn said.
They’re trying to keep items affordable, with most under $40, the owners said.
The store also has a community workshop room where it can host classes and demonstrations. The workshop space will allow for further collaboration with local artists and makers who Flynn and Cathcart have come to know through organizing craft fairs in Jarvis Square.
“Rogers Park is full of talented people,” Cathcart said. “A lot of these people can make some extra money doing classes [at the store]. That will be a space for them.”
The standalone retail shop is a pleasantly surprising twist for Cathcart and Flynn, who took over Charmers Cafe, 1500 W. Jarvis Ave., months before the pandemic and did everything they could to keep the business afloat.
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 their business model, bringing in locally made ice cream, new food items and selling potted plants.
When the pandemic hit, Charmers relied on its large outdoor space and coordinated events with other Jarvis Square businesses to bring people to the area. The gift shop section of the business became a surprising pandemic-pivot success, they said.
“We’re surprised we’re doing this,” Cathcart said of opening the gift shop. “Our demographic is growing. A lot more college kids are submerged in the neighborhood.”
With Horseplay by Charmers now open, Charmers Cafe has resumed indoor dining, something the business had for only a month during Cathcart and Flynn’s tenure as owners.
“We don’t know what it’s like to run a real coffee shop yet,” Cathcart said.
Charmers Cafe is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For more information on the business, check out its Facebook page.
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