If the four biggest coffee shops in Hillsdale — Checker Records, Jilly Beans, Biggby’s, and Rough Draft, — have anything to say, the increasing variety of coffee shop experiences in town have had no negative influence on business, but rather have increased activity in downtown.
Checker Records is known for not only its unique assortment of flavors (all of which are named after musical artists and bands, such as Jimmy Buffet, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash to name a few), but their in-house assortment of vinyl albums.
Creating an experience centered around music and community, Checker Records has been a community favorite since 1980, also providing locals with an annual Street Dance.
Checker Records employee and Hillsdale junior Isabelle Parell said she does not think the April opening of Rough Draft threatens business.
“We are No. 1 in Hillsdale,” she said. “We have accolades like ‘Michigan’s Best Coffee,’ and we have lots of flavors and options. We also have the best espresso in town. Some people come in here six times a day.”
Parell added that Checker Records has experienced economic growth even amidst the increased presence of coffee shops in Hillsdale.
“Our clientele has grown over time. Our biggest event, the Checker Records Street Dance, sells over 600 tickets,” she said.
Fellow employees agreed with her.
Parell said the personal relationships developed between owners and customers gives Checker Records a special place in the Hillsdale community.
“The best coffee shop owners are always here, and we know all of our regulars’ orders,” she said.
Another coffee shop, Jilly Beans provides a quieter and more “comfortable” environment, as described by Jilly Beans employee Julie Crowley.
“This is the place that makes you feel at home,” she said. “Parents come here when they visit, and students come and study here.”
When asked what sets Jilly Beans apart from other coffee shops in town, other than possessing a home-like atmosphere, Crowley said, “Apart from coffee, we offer sandwiches, soups, and other food that many other coffee shops don’t offer in town.”
New Jilly Beans owner, Mary Ellen Sattler, bought the coffee shop over a year ago, which, according to employees, has brought a lot of great changes.
With redecorating of furniture and menu signs, extended hours (being open later on Sundays and Tuesdays for students), bringing back live music, a larger menu, and even Jilly Beans’ “Secret Garden” in the back of the building, clientele has expanded.
“Each coffee shop has their own niche. If anything, our business has grown, but there’s also been a lot of changes,”Crowley said. “The books don’t lie, and according to them, business hasn’t changed; business has gotten better.”
Around the corner of W. Carleton Road, Biggby’s – the only chain coffee shop Hillsdale offers – provides a convenient drive-thru for busy clientele who don’t have a moment to spare when it comes to grabbing their daily caffeine and doughnuts. Biggby’s also is known to offer sweeter flavor coffee options, such as caramel, chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, etc., than some others in town.
According to Biggby employees, lots of customers come through the drive-thru. The store is influenced by college students, but most clients come from elsewhere.
When asked if Biggby’s experiences any competition with neighboring coffee shops, he declined to expand on the subject.
“Biggby’s isn’t necessarily a spot to have an aesthetically pleasing environment for quiet studying,” Sophomore Emma Peters, previous employee of Biggby’s Coffee in East Lansing said. “The purpose of Biggby’s is to be social, make conversation with the barista, and grab a quick coffee.”
The newest addition to the Hillsdale neighborhood, Rough Draft, offers not only gourmet coffee options, but a variety of teas and alcoholic beverages. They offer live music nights, art events, and “Taco Tuesdays” — very different options than other shops in town.
“Setting ourselves apart from other coffee shops hasn’t been our focus so much as making sure we can contribute something to the already vibrant coffee scene in Hillsdale,” Rough Draft barista Rachel Solomito ’17 said. “So we’ve definitely tried to expand our relationship with the community into other areas, like with our live music events and cocktail menu.”
Recognized for its modern aesthetic and rustic accents, Rough Draft often attracts Hillsdale College students. Employees claim this as Rough Draft’s unique mark, as other coffeehouses in town each possess their own personal aesthetic.
“Each coffee shop offers its own unique environment — there’s the edgy-rock-coffee-vibe, more intimate and conversational spaces, etc. I think we’ve tried to make Rough Draft both a social gathering space as well as a good study zone,” Solomito said.
According to employees, Rough Draft was birthed from the ideas and inspiration of the neighboring coffeehouses in Hillsdale, by providing both a quiet study environment for students and a relaxing yet vibrant nightlife for students and adults alike.
But is this influx of coffee shops is healthy or dangerous for the local businesses in the city of Hillsdale?
Professor of Economics Gary Wolfram, he called this sensation “economies of agglomeration,” which is when a greater variety of businesses become available, and attract more people and the pull of traffic.
“There is definitely an element of competition amongst the coffee shops. But, on the other hand, there is an atmosphere of downtown Hillsdale that is improved by these ‘cool coffee shops,’” Wolfram said.
“There is also going to be economic growth in local businesses, because, for one, you probably know the person who owns it,” Wolfram said. “That’s why places like Starbucks opened, it’s about the experience. In a small town, you can make that experience not only having Wi-Fi, but being familiar with the owners.”
Wolfram suggested that the influx of coffee shops will not necessarily overwhelm Hillsdale with competition amongst businesses, but rather will bring people from other towns like Jonesville or Coldwater into Hillsdale more often.
“I think it is a good sign that we are getting more coffee shops, and other venues. You’ll get more students going downtown,” Wolfram said. “I have noticed there are more students downtown then there ever used to be.”