COLUMBIA — For almost five years, the Lakota Coffee Company has been selling coffee and snacks to Columbia Public Library users. But after Lakota left in early June, the library is still looking to fill the java gap.
Lakota began operating its library kiosk in 2005 and was a big hit with library users and staff, said Elinor Barrett, library spokeswoman.
Because of financial cutbacks, however, Lakota had to pull out, and the library is now looking for a new vendor to take over the business. Last summer, when gas prices neared $4 per gallon and wholesale milk was close to $3.70 per gallon, Lakota owner Skip DuCharme said he began to wonder whether the kiosk was still a good investment.
“In 16 years of business, leaving the kiosk is one of the most difficult decisions I had to make,” DuCharme said.
With the high cost of fuel last summer and monthly operating costs around $5,000, DuCharme decided it wouldn't make financial sense to renew his contract with the library for this year.
DuCharme’s first contract with the library yielded three profitable years for the stand. He renewed it in 2008 and 2009 but had to pull out of the contract halfway through this year. The library did not hold this against Lakota because a clause in the contract stated that with enough notice, either the library or Lakota were able to break the deal at any time.
DuCharme said that he is trying to sell the kiosk and the remaining equipment to whomever the library chooses to take Lakota's place.
Dennis Nicks, a newcomer to the coffee business, is the only person to submit an offer to the library to operate the kiosk. The Daniel Boone Regional Library Board will vote whether to approve Nicks’ purchase on Thursday at its monthly board meeting. If Nicks is chosen, the library will have to negotiate a contract with him, help finalize the menu and help purchase the equipment from Lakota.
“We want to have the kiosk as a service to our patrons and staff because there is nothing else like it in this area of town,” Barrett said. The library could not run the kiosk because no one on the staff understands how to run a coffee shop, and the library would prefer to bring in an outside vendor, she said.
As for Lakota, DuCharme said the coffee shop is not in financial trouble, and this has been one of the best summers he has seen in his 16 years of business. He said some of the cooler-than-average days have been more conducive to coffee drinking.
While it had to leave the library, Lakota still has a presence in University Hospital as well as Boone Hospital Center. The Boone Hospital location is still open but will be moved to a food court after the hospital undergoes some remodeling, DuCharme said.