Josephine von Dohlen / Col­legian


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.”