First Commune, now Plum Island Coffee Roasters. And I’m still reeling from the loss of Greta’s Great Grains.
Barely 20 years ago, my daughter and I walked down Pleasant Street and were surprised to see the newly opened Caffe Di Siena. Rachel was reminded of her favorite haunt near her dorm at Vassar: “Oh, I like this!”
She inherited a love of coffee from me, though I take it black. “Just what Newburyport needs,” I quipped, “another coffee shop!”
We were still fans of Middle Street Foods back then, and we each had friends we joined at Fowle's and Abraham’s Bagels.
Starbuck’s was already at State and Liberty, but not for us. We thought it more reminiscent of an interchange on I-84 than a leafy, off-campus neighborhood.
Siena soon disproved my skepticism. Back then, I was still busking Inn Street. After two hours on a wind instrument, it took an hour of sitting still before I could fasten a seat belt, much less drive a car.
Something about alpha beta similar to the experience of long-distance runners that I never understood. Frankly, it reminded me of bowls of hashish experienced in the '60s that I often happily withstood, but that’s another story.
Siena proved the right place to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with the largest cup of their strongest blend. I asked for “a bucket” for perhaps longer than they could stand the same joke.
Whether they laughed with me or at me didn’t matter as I settled into my state of bliss in a chair by the window. One joke they never heard: I should have been paying them rent.
When it became Commune, I barely noticed. Took a year before the new owner, Bruce Vogel, prevailed upon me to say it correctly.
"It's a verb," he offered helpfully.
"You're a verb!" I thought in my muddled state of consciousness, but I just smiled.
Sounds like a dig, but the man has been as active as any Newburyporter in fundraisers, community projects, civic groups, and in politics as an at-large city councilor. Like verbs in a sentence, such folk make a city hum.
A shame to know that Commune is now in the past tense where it joined a long list of Port participles left dangling on the outside of an increasingly chain-linked enterprise that still calls itself a city.
The closing of PICR is just another zip up the body bag of Newburyport's civic life. Only those who take part will show up to pay their respects to yet another mom-and-pop replaced by just another link in the chain.
Most will continue to celebrate the Port for its scenic beauty, its quaintness, the romance of red brick under the glow of period street lamps. "Love where I live!" and "Happy Newburyport!" they proclaim.
In the ensuing outcry, the divide between those who live in the city and those who live only on its surface is glaring: Those who want PICR to stay talk about a vibrant civic life. Those who defend the landlord’s decision speak only of contracts and lease agreements. Bowls of water and free biscuits for patrons’ dogs outside the door do not appear on bottom lines.
Though entirely in the first group, I find them more frustrating than the latter. Much like my neighbors on Plum Island who built on sand and now expect a city or state to protect them from erosion — or the Texas “individualists” who called climate change “a hoax” now begging for federal relief from its effects.
To be blunt, I’m exhausted by people who never question capitalism complaining when capitalist indifference — to a community, to the environment, to all else — screws them. And screws them fully within capitalism’s cutthroat lack of bounds.
They may disdain the word, but it’s a small measure of socialism that they beg for rescue.
May PICR’s patrons get their wish. Conversations thrive in coffee shops, and no vibrant city can ever have too many of those.
I only wish that, for once, they would realize exactly what that wish is.