The lobby of the Cambria County Library in downtown Johnstown is framed by yellow caution tape with a placard that reads “please excuse the mess.” The sour smell of wood and concrete dust hangs in the air, but soon it will be replaced by a rich aroma of roasted coffee beans.
In light of inevitable spending cuts across the board in 2013 and a need for new revenue streams, the library reached out to community organizations and Sheetz Inc. to fund a coffee bar to complement its used bookstore.
“We got to thinking this was a resource we had to support in a bigger way,” said library director Lyn Meek of the Inclined to Read used bookstore, which operates out of the library’s lobby by Friends of the Cambria County Library, a member-run nonprofit.
In the 2 1/2 years since the store opened, it’s generated about $30,000 for the library. Most of the books sold at the store cost just a dollar or two.
“We probably get book donations every day,” she said. “There’s been a lot of interest in people buying used books.”
Meek said it’s all part of the library’s mission to “rethink” its role in the community. The “fiscal cliff” and its promise of even less state funding provided the incentive to move forward.
According to Meek, the library never fully recovered from the 50 percent cut in state funds during 2009.
“We don’t look for those funds to come back on the state level ever again ... we have to look at other avenues,” she said.
In early summer, Meek said the library reached out to Community Foundation for the Alleghenies regarding the coffee bar and its business plan was submitted in September.
The foundation came back with $35,000 for the project. The library also received a grant of $10,000 from Lee Initiatives Foundation to replace the lobby’s light fixtures.
Now in their second week of work, contractors have been shoring up the plumbing and electrical systems in preparation for the Sheetz countertop, cabinetry and coffee-maker installations that are set for Wednesday.
JPT Architects of Johnstown rendered the enclosure that will house the revamped shop but could not be reached for comment or a completion schedule.
“We’re using some of our in-house blood, sweat and tears to complete the project and keep the cost down,” Meek said with a laugh.
And if the project goes as planned, the library will be putting a trusty, weathered tome in customers’ one hand while Sheetz will be putting a French vanilla roast in the other.
“They do go hand in hand,” said Monica Jones, public relations manager for Sheetz Inc.
The library sent a humble letter to Joe Sheetz proposing its idea – an “unusual request” as Jones put it. Meek said Sheetz replied within a couple of days with a pledge of support – no questions asked.
“We’ve experimented before with having our product outside stores and this, to my knowledge, is our first partnership with a nonprofit,” said Jones, adding that while the ventures weren’t major successes, they were a good learning experience.
“We have a very loyal base in Johnstown – it’s pretty much our home market,” Jones said. “(This is a way) to support that community and the Greater Johnstown area in return for their support of our stores for the last 40 years.”
Sheetz Inc. also has a history in the Special Olympics, community fairs, local youth sports and education.
Three years ago, the company started providing coffee to the LifeSkills class at Everett Area High School. In the developmental needs program, the teacher was running a store for students as a way to provide retail skill training. Jones said the Sheetz Bros. coffee not only helped to legitimize the business, but became a big hit with faculty.
The new addition has certainly given library workers an early caffeine buzz.
“Everybody’s really excited about the coffee,” Meek said.
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