Opinion: Local coffee shops, you haven’t bean yet?

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cat espresso
Lord/The Occidental

Looking back on my first semester in college, I think about all the dark evenings spent cooped up in a study room at the library with my closest friends. We worked there for at least five hours every day. By the time we left, the sun was nowhere to be seen. It was efficient at first; we completed our school work and some of our greatest conversations occurred in the library. Even so, it soon became a routine that I grew tired of. I explored every inch of the library yet being in the building still felt very tiresome. The library is now a place that fills me with dread. So, this semester I am trying something new — coffee shops.

It all started at the place I know best: Starbucks. My electronics were all dying and the Starbucks on Colorado Boulevard does not have any charging ports. My friends and I would always pass by Swork Coffee on the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado Boulevard, so we decided it was the perfect time to finally check it out. Walking into Swork was a new yet familiar experience; I was reminded of five-year-old Perla dipping a piece of bread into her mom’s coffee mug. The rustic interior with its exposed wood and bricks is similar to my childhood home in the Dominican Republic. Unlike the Starbucks on Colorado, which consists mainly of tables and chairs, Swork amazed me with its diverse seating options: outdoor seating, couches, long tables with chairs and bar tables. The bar tables are especially efficient for me because looking at the wall limits the number of visual distractions and helps me focus.

The hanging lights and chandelier are my favorite part of Swork. Rather than the typical harsh overhead lights, I noticed the cafes I’ve visited will often have eccentric lighting fixtures that create a calming atmosphere and allow me to better concentrate on my work.

Supporting local coffee shops has copious benefits. In addition to studying in a nice environment, you are supporting a small business, often owned by someone in your community rather than a faraway corporation. Being Oxy students means we are now part of a new community with a new set of local businesses.

Eagle Rock and Highland Park are filled with unique shops rather than just franchises. There has been a lot of gentrification over the last few years in the areas around the college, so it is even more important to support local businesses and learn more about where we now live. Historically, the community around Oxy has been predominantly Latino and increased housing prices have forced many businesses to shut down. By contributing to the local businesses around us, we help the community stay true to its roots and help our neighbors afford to live in the areas they have been in for years, sometimes generations.

Further, since local coffee shops are centered around local customers, employees usually prioritize the individual customer experience. They are very personable and there is something special about a barista remembering the names of their usual customers, that makes people feel a sense of belonging. It all started at Swork for me. Now I explore different cafes within walking distance from Oxy. Another one of my personal favorites has been Four Cafe.

Four Cafe is a casual restaurant that specializes in foods such as sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads. Although it is not a coffee shop, it still has a comfortable studying environment. The only source of light is the hanging bulbs that create a dim environment. Occasionally, the employees play lo-fi, which I enjoy listening to when studying. Like Swork, they have an assortment of seating arrangements such as bar tables. The interior design of the cafe mimics Piet Mondrian’s color blocking style of art.

While the early closing time of Swork might deter some students, night owl Oxy students could still go to Four Cafe, which closes at 9 p.m.

My newfound interest in coffee shops mirrors my journey to LA: a burning urge to try something new. I will always find comfort and familiarity in a universal place like Starbucks. However, I didn’t move all the way across the country to try the typical places I can find in abundance back home in New Jersey. In LA there are one-of-a-kind cafes and shops you can’t find elsewhere. So, join me in exploring the businesses around Occidental College and learning more about the character and history of the local neighborhood. NELA businesses and Oxy students both have something to gain if we take advantage of the many unique study spaces at coffee shops and cafes. You might even become a regular, as your favorite barista calls you by your name.