Why Aren't There Any Worker-Owned and Operated Coffee Shops in Astoria?
Questioning why in AOC's District of all places we don't see Worker-Owned business models thrive.
I just called up a real-estate agent in Astoria, it’s a thing I do from time to time. A dry cleaner near me just closed down, and there’s a big sign “office space for rent”. I always see huge potential in a empty space. One business can totally change the vibe of a block or neighborhood. I’ve always been obsessed with 3rd spaces, you know not your apartment, and not your work, the cafe, yoga studio, hacker space, the pottery studio, artist galleries. Vacant retail stores really bother me. What bothers me even more is when they’re vacant for years, only to eventually become something utterly useless to me, the usual suspects, a tax account office, a smoke shop, the 30th nail salon in a one mile radius, none of which are a “third space”. This call was brief I gave the address, he asked for what, I said “computer stuff” and he gave me a price $3,700. Can I afford that, no? Would I even know what to do with the space if it was free? Probably not. What was the purpose of this? On one hand I like pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and making these sorts of calls just for the expierence. On the other it’s out of genuine curiosity. In order for a business to afford this space, it needs to make more then $3,700 a month and pay to employ people. One day when it does get rented probably to one of the aforementioned establishments I will know that that business model that rent, or they got a deal for a lower rent.
Update: It’s September and this storefront mentioned in May is now a smoke shop / convenience store, go figure.
What’s the big fuss about worker owned and operated businesses? Companies are inherently exploitative. The nature of work in this country is depressing. Workers have little rights, little say in what they do or how they get things done. Owners reap in benefits by exploiting a system of underlings. Shifting or inverting this model seems like a no-brainer. Being able to be invested in the overall business and having a say where profits go, what to invest in, transparency in the overall operations all seem like amazing benefits.
I’m fascinated by worker owned and operated businesses, and I’m deeply disappointed that this isn’t more common place. Last year I went to Buffalo, New York and visited Breadhive a cafe and bakery that was very unique it was worker owned and operated. The place had an amazing aura, people passionate about what they’re doing.
As a native New Yorker it’s upsetting to see a lack of these sort of businesses. My opening paragraph maybe explains why this is the current reality. The truth is rent is cheaper in Buffalo and more expensive in say, Queens or Brooklyn. But is this the only factor? I think people aren’t aware of the alternative. I think that there’s a lot of effort in getting a business off the ground, which is why those with the initial capital reap all the benefit. It doesn’t need to be this way. Too often I’ll be at a yoga studio or cafe and someone will walk in and start touting orders disrupting the space and flow, you can tell the employees all tighten up, you can tell it’s the owner trying to feel important, when really the employees know what they’re doing, it really makes me not want to support these spaces.
Even I myself question what why I would “give up” rights to something I were to found, there’s a lot of pride that comes with starting your own business. I don’t think it makes sense for most people to put the effort and initial capital into creating something whether it be a cafe or an app and then seemingly give it up. This narrative needs to shift too.
I want to see a world where Yoga Studios, Coffee Shops, Hacker Spaces, Comic book Shops can all thrive as employee-owned businesses. Correct me if I’m wrong but I actually don’t think that there are any worker-owned coffee shops within the 5 boroughs. (If you know of one please let me know!) I want to see a world where it’s easy to find other people in your local community passionate about creating businesses and third spaces that bring people together. As a software engineer I think that we can usher in a new wave of tools and apps that help the solidarity economy thrive. When more of these alternative business are created they can network together and promote and support each other and the entire ecosystem can thrive.
I’m considering creating a homepage detailing all of this, as well as a discord. Perhaps putting up a bunch of flyers in Brooklyn & Queens to try and reach more people. If you’re interested in joining in creating a collective please reach out!