What's next for La Grange Caribou Coffee's regulars?
LA GRANGE – Richard Meyer sat with his laptop open in a brown leather chair next to a stone fireplace at the Caribou Coffee on La Grange Road – essentially Meyer's second living room for the past 10 years.
About five days every week, Meyer comes in to get a cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and chat with the people he's gotten to know as one of the store's regulars.
Spending an hour there on a weekday morning, it quickly becomes clear that Meyer is not the store's only regular. The barista seems to know the names of every few customers, some of whom say hello as soon as they walk in the door.
On this day, though, there's a disbelieving head-shake mixed in with the friendly interactions that the store has hosted for 12 years. As of April 14, its doors will close as Caribou shuts down 80 locations nationwide, a move it announced April 8. The company, which was bought by German holding company Joh. A. Bensicker (JAB) Group last December, will turn 88 other locations into Peet's Coffee and Tea.
"I'm going to miss it," said Meyer, who trades stocks online, often at the store. "I think it's going to change the whole feeling of downtown La Grange here, this edge of downtown. It's going to leave a little bit of a void."
Meyer followed Caribou's stock and even thought about investing a few years ago when the company turned around after a slump and saw its stock rise to about $16 a share .
"I thought I should invest in my surroundings," he joked.
He said he had a feeling Caribou's new owner, JAB, bought the company to capitalize on retail opportunities, as the coffee can now be purchased in a variety of other stores.
It wasn't the brand that made Meyer a regular. He likes the coffee, but he kept coming back because of the store's ambience – its light wood-finished walls and wooden canopy gave it a "ski lodge feel," Meyer said – and the crowd.
"I've become friends with the baristas and managers, more so than I've become with other proprietors," Meyer said. "It's easier to converse with these folks."
Meyer also got to know other regulars like himself. Some of them he knew only by their first names until it was announced that the store would be closing, when they started trading business cards in order to stay in contact once their meeting place shuts down. Earlier in the day, Meyer traded business cards with another regular who had given him Cubs tickets one time.
Another regular, Debi Myslicki, learned about the store's closing and then posted a disgruntled comment online that was picked up by CNN. Her friends at the store immediately knew it was her.
Myslicki has been getting her coffee from the store since it opened. She remembers when one of the baristas was pregnant. She also remembers a man named Rich who died 6-8 months ago, but used to frequent the store often.
"'Sit down and talk a little bit. Don't work so hard,'" she remembers him saying. "And I was so glad I did."
Myslicki said she doesn't understand why the store is closing because there were always people there. She wished the company would have cut other costs instead of closing stores.
"Caribou should've cut down on all of the extras they were trying to sell," said Myslicki, who runs her own real estate business. "We just want our coffee."
So what will regulars like Meyer and Myslicki do after the store closes?
"I don't even know where I'm going to for coffee now," said Myslicki, who served coffee from the store at open houses and gave away Caribou gift cards to clients. "I'll probably be forced to go to Starbuck's, but it's hard to park there, and there's always a line out there. Frankly, I don't like the coffee as much. I think it's too strong-tasting."
Meyer said he occasionally visits a different Caribou location, but it doesn't have the draw that this location did.
"I don't have the same connection to the people," he said.
He said he will probably start going to the library more often.
Above all, Myslicki said she feels terrible for the store's employees. One of the store's baristas, a woman who has worked there for 10 years and asked not to be named because she expects to receive severance pay from Caribou, doesn't know if she will want to work for another coffee shop.
"It's kine of like a breakup," she said.
As Meyer sits with his laptop, another man discusses the news of the store's closing with employees on his way out.
"I'll see you guys for the rest of the week," he said before heading out the door.