COLUMBIA — Bookcases line the walls with Plato, Green Living and numerous copies of “Catch-22.” Bar stools, a couch and a couple of Adirondack chairs in the living room provide the background for an intimate setting of conversation and coffee sipping.
Located at the northeast corner of Windsor Street and Williams Street, a homemade sign is put in the yard on the first Saturday of each month to let the neighbors know the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Coffee Shop is open for business. The quaint whitewashed house with green trim is easily visible and can be found across from the Lion-Stephens Park.
The entrepreneur of the coffee shop, Kip Kendrick, 26, moved into the neighborhood in March 2006 and began opening up his house to his neighborhood in October 2007.
“We don’t have the sense of community like we used to and I wanted to get that back,” Kendrick said. “If I want people to buy into the idea of letting neighbors into their lives then I have to lead by example by allowing neighbors to enter my home.”
Saturday morning at the coffee house is the time to catch up with old friends or meet new ones. It is a laid-back setting.
“I wanted to set up strong roots with the community,” Kendrick said. “Knowing people is nice, and I definitely feel safer because of it.”
The bright sun of the brisk morning shines through the windows as an aroma of fresh burning fire fills the house. No knocking is required and everyone who enters is greeted with a smile. For some, it’s like old friends walking through the door.
“I’m sorry I’m going a mile a minute here, I’m just trying to get everything in,” Clare Adrian, a neighborhood resident, said to a friend who had recently been out of town. Some come at sunrise and stay until noon. Others just grab a cup of coffee and a quick hello and are on their way. But regardless of the time spent in the coffee shop, neighborhood relations are forming each month. Besides the flow of conversation, ideas for improving the neighborhood are passed along from one resident to another.
“These conversations, and the caffeine buzz, are how future projects within our neighborhood will gain momentum,” Kendrick said.
The Benton-Stephens Coffee House is a place to discuss politics, local issues and current events. Subjects are switched, debates take place and local representatives campaign. In March, a City Council member even stopped by to make and appearance and catch up on community events and discussions that have been taking shape. Mary Still, who is running to replace Judy Baker as 25th District representative, entered the coffee house the same day and talked about the revitalization of the neighborhood.
“We have a lot to sell in this community,” Still said.
The neighborhood has about 500 houses and includes residents who have lived there for more than 20 years. Being close to the downtown, as well as both Stephens College and MU, many residents walk or bike to class and work.
“It is so different and so individual and neighborly,” said Frederick Schmidt, a Benton-Stephens resident.
Schmidt describes the neighborhood as being diverse in every sense of the word.
“We have some big houses, some student housing, some Section 8 housing, and some multi-family housing,” Schmidt said. “It’s good to have it all mixed in so everyone is always watching out for each other.”
Before starting the coffee shop, Kendrick engineered a community garden last spring.
“The coffee shop builds off of the gardeners,” Kendrick said, “to keep everyone connected.”
The garden consists of individual plots of land as well as a community plot. Kendrick said about 25 gardeners participated. Last year the community plot grew eggplants, tomatoes, cauliflower and herbs. All individuals were free to do what they wanted with their plots. Work has already begun on the garden for this season.
“There are a mix of students who live in the neighborhood and at least 30 percent were students who gardened last year,” Kendrick said, “and whether they move out or not, they are going to take those skills with them.”
Excited about the start of the coffee shop, Schmidt told Kendrick that if it lasted through the winter it would last.
“This brings people together. It’s fun, and it’s something that’s been missing in our lives,” Schmidt said. “The garden and the coffee shop are two things that bring us back to our roots. Kip is a breath of fresh air for our neighborhood.”