Before the pandemic (left) and now
MAUREEN GARDIN AND MIKE GARNETT are the owners of the independent coffee shop, Bean Around the World. The popular Fisgard Street café ordinarily opens at seven in the morning and welcomes customers for the next eleven hours.
Now, they open for half an hour a week in order to greet a small group of customers who come to pick up whole beans. “In these weird times, it’s such a pleasure to see people,” says Gardin, then adds, “We are almost completely closed. It’s a giant difference.” And of course, it comes nowhere close to meeting the bills.
Bean Around the World continues to roast beans once a week for a small group of private customers, because they didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. “We haven’t encouraged more whole bean customers as our space is limited. We don’t have a warehouse to store the green beans,” explains Gardin.
Like all popular coffee shops, the main focus of their business is serving good coffee along with soups, sandwiches and baked goods. “We have a great staff, great customers.” But, they had to lay off all of their staff. “It was a tough decision, but it’s what you have to do,” said Gardin.
Some of the staff were university students who went home when the university closed, but some of their staff are in their 30s and they are trying to make a go in Victoria. Gardin acknowledges that, “Victoria is a very expensive city to live in and rent.” A couple of the girls miss it and want to volunteer.
She and Garnett are pleased that the government has set up a program to help the unexpectedly unemployed, such as their staff. As for the customers, Gardin says, “We have so many loyal regulars. It really feels like a community.”
Financially, this month has been a shock. Bills are still rolling in from last month’s expenses, and of course there is very little income. In their 24 years in business in Victoria, the couple have seen many businesses come and go. Gardin wonders how many businesses will not be able to reopen after the pandemic passes, but she is confident their coffee shop will be among those that survive.
Bean Around the World is a well-established business. “We own the property—that makes a big difference.” She talked about the mortgage relief that is available, and BC Hydro’s plan to postpone billing. They plan to look into the Federal assistance that will be made available for small businesses. And going forward, “We may open for takeout only, initially. We won’t have 20 staff ready to go.”
Meanwhile, she and Garnett miss the interaction with their staff and their customers. Like many small businesses, staff is more like family. “I love my lifestyle,” says Gardin. “We are not intent on empire building. We make enough money to get by.” She describes a typical day for herself. “I get up, go down to the store, have a coffee, drive the staff nuts, kibbutz with the customers, come home—I love it.” She adds, “Hopefully we’ll get back to it sooner rather than later.”
Marilyn McCrimmon is a native Victorian and freelance writer. She has written for Focus since its inception in 1988.