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Uptown Residents Want More Independent Coffee Shops

While many Uptown residents have found that perfect coffee house that has

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the whole package—inexpensive, inviting and not Starbucks—some are still searching through the limited café options that Uptown provides.

“Certainly coffee shops are a great gathering place for a community,” said the director of the Uptown Chamber of Commerce Paula Barrington.

According to Barrington, Uptown has many cafés, but two of them are Starbucks. Barrington named three independent cafés and one bakery. Unfortunately, some of these independent coffee shops are rather small with the ability to squeeze in and seat about 15 customers.

Uptown residents such as Shirese Louie want more variety.

Louie, a UIC student and self-proclaimed “café connoisseur” moved to Uptown a month ago and has been on a search for cafés other than Starbucks since her move. Louie, who previously lived in Logan Square, where she said there were many cafés, had lived with two other roommates. Louie often found it difficult to study and would always be able to get work done at one of these cafes.

“The coffee shops were my home away from home. Even when I was not studying, it was a good way to get to know neighbors, even if I never spoke with anyone else,” Louie said, “and a good way to know the neighborhood.”

Ever since she moved to Uptown, finding a comfortable, “unique” coffee house has been a challenge. While Starbucks’ prices for drinks are higher than prices in other cafes, Louie’s main problem with Starbucks is its “cookie character” that has “no uniqueness.”

Starbucks is the most famous chain of retail coffee shops in the world and it owns about 4000 branches worldwide. According to the “Case Study in Motivation and Teamwork” created by the Starbucks Corporation for new employees, Starbucks isn’t only recognized worldwide for its coffee, but also for its atmosphere and service. According to this document, “Starbucks establishes comfortable surroundings for people to socialize with a fair price, which attracts all ages of consumers to come into the stores.”

“Why go to Starbucks?” said Yeremiah Crutcher, 21, from Chicago. Even though Crutcher doesn’t live in Uptown, his reaction clarifies the reactions of a lot of students who are on a budget and making conscious efforts to support smaller businesses: If this same service is available elsewhere, with even better prices, then why Starbucks?

Many would agree; especially an anti-Starbuck’s coffee house that is situated on the 4100 Block of Clarendon. This 8-year-old coffee house that spreads the phrase, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks,” to its valued customers and has the capacity to seat around 45 people is loved by many Uptown residents and is just what they are looking for in a coffee shop. Dollup puts a lot of effort into making its customers feel comfortable.

According to customers, Dollup has lived up to and beyond their logo, which is represented by several mugs and the words beneath them, “Great Coffee, serious pie, free wifi.”

“When I go to Starbucks, I feel like I should be leaving in the next 15 minutes,” said Northwestern student Ivan Ivanov, who even commutes a bit just to go to Dollup. “The sight of Starbucks kind of hurts my eyes.”

Ivanov, from Bulgaria, said that the most important thing about a coffee shop is its atmosphere and service and at Dollup’s, he feels “at home.”

According to Max Varkalis, a barista at Dollup, there are only a few coffee shops in Uptown. Varkalis said that luckily, there isn’t much competition around and almost every independent coffee shop in Uptown is different.

“That’s me when I was a baby,” said Varkalis, while pointing to a wall filled with baby pictures of former and present Dollup employees.

Varkalis, who has been working at Dollup’s for eight months, said that people are tired of the “same old thing,” and are looking for “new and different” coffee houses. He enjoys working at Dollup because of the people, his freedom as an employee to be creative and the satisfaction that he gets in knowing this coffee shops’ goal isn’t only to treat customers as just “a number” but to care and make them feel comfortable.

“You get everybody here: strange people weird people, people in suits and people without,” Varkalis said. “You’ve got everyone in one place sharing something which is extremely simple and extremely old.”

According to an article written on The Economist, called “Coffee-Houses: The Internet In a Cup,” coffee-houses in the past, always meant a place where “for the price of a cup of coffee, you could read the latest pamphlets, catch up on news and gossip, attend scientific lectures, strike business deals, or chat with like-minded people about literature or politics.”

This tradition hasn’t changed much and cafes, once known for being a spot where people went to study, socialize, digest and discuss news, has not yet lost its charm.

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