The third owners were not the charm for Terre Haute’s oldest coffee shop. Established by George Shumay in 1993, the Coffee Grounds recently closed without notice to patrons or staff. Not that the people working there didn’t realize all was not well. Former employees interviewed asked to speak off the record. Already worried about whether they’ll even get W-2 forms so they can file tax returns, they don’t want to antagonize their erstwhile employers.
When Shumay sold the Coffee Grounds to Pete Wilson in 2006, it had become, as they say, a Terre Haute institution.
The general consensus is that the business was done in by poor management and an associated decline in quality. The owners were characterized as having no experience in business. Ironically, Shumay didn’t either. He had come to Terre Haute to attend Rose-Hulman, and when he opened the Coffee Grounds, he had a degree in mechanical engineering, not management or marketing or hospitality services. But Shumay did his homework, visiting several coffee shops in Chicago to get an idea of how they ran the places.
When Shumay sold the Coffee Grounds to Pete Wilson in 2006, it had become, as they say, a Terre Haute institution. It provided a place for live music, for poetry readings, for organizations to meet. It was a place where high school students could hang out in the evening, a place with a kind of sophisticated ambiance that showed you weren’t a kid any more. The customer base ranged from these teenagers to college students to doctors and lawyers and everything in between.
The third owners took over about a year ago. Baristas who had worked under the previous management could see the downhill slide. They stopped making items in-house and got baked goods from Sam’s Club, but continued to market them as homemade. They replaced the liquid chai with a powdered version.
Some days they were out of milk. They went a week without chocolate, during a month when mochas and hot chocolate were normally the best sellers. Sometimes they were out of coffee. The electricity was turned off twice.
Experienced baristas sought employment elsewhere. New people got rudimentary training. The machines were not professionally serviced. Formerly, the store’s mantra had been “It’s not just good coffee; it’s part of the community.” Now it wasn’t even good coffee any more.
Hours became irregular, and then they ceased altogether. A once vibrant downtown business had died.
There are rumors of resurrection, but for now there’s only the standard “For Rent” sign, and the former regulars have taken their coffee orders to Starbucks.
Lucinda Berry was born in Terre Haute, got a B.A. in English from Indiana State University, studied in Oxford, England, and worked in Shimonoseki, Japan and traveled a good deal in Asia, got an M.A. in Linguistics from Indiana University, and eventually ended up back in Terre Haute. Her favorite place in Terre Haute is the Swope Art Museum. If she happened to be there when a fire broke out, she would rush to save Jack Levine’s “A Joy Forever.”