by Michael Lahanas
Some Kenyon students may be surprised to hear there’s another coffee shop besides Wiggin Street Coffee in Knox County, but Sips Coffee House and Deli in Mount Vernon has been open for nearly two decades.
In 1998, Sips opened up on Main Street in downtown Mount Vernon. It had a kitschy gift shop in the front and a small coffee bar in back. Owner Russ McGibney, a lifelong resident of Mount Vernon, spent the next several years building Sips into a downtown institution.
Flash forward to the present and Sips is now firmly rooted in the heart of Mount Vernon. Its rustic aesthetic, with a variety of antique signs and decorations hanging on the walls, remains. The music playing in Sips varies depending on the crowd. For example, on certain weekdays, a group of mahjong players is treated to an entire album of the Beach Boys during their game.
“This is a true space for everyone — I mean just today we have a local author by the name of Glenn Horne doing a book signing,” McGibney said, pointing down the rows of tables to the author signing novels.
McGibney proudly recalls that Sips has won awards for its coffee in the past, but he also prides himself on the variety of his menu. Sips offers a number of specialty drinks with quirky names like “The Nutty Frenchman” or “S’More Mochaccino” in addition to standard brewed coffee.
The menu also contains a wide sampling of deli sandwiches, offering patrons the ability to customize and experiment as they please. It feels like a mix of Wiggin and the Gambier Deli in terms of what is offered. McGibney emphasized his focus is on making the coffee house an active part of the local community.
From time to time, Sips hosts a number of different cultural events, including poetry readings and performances by local artists. Yet, McGibney said he has struggled to attract college students to these events.
“I spent about an hour and a half going through the Kenyon and Naz websites reading the bios of every English professor,” McGibney said, adding that he often sends out emails with event information to faculty members hoping that they will bring their students. He said he has never received a response.
That’s not to say Kenyon students and faculty haven’t heard about Sips or its events. Sips has catered for the Department of Physics and hosted the softball team in the past, and is a familiar name to at least some students on campus.
“The first time I went, I thought, ‘Very cute,’ and I was very happy I was going to a coffee shop other than Wiggins,” Juvi Rivera ’19 said.
McGibney remains optimistic. “I put posters up in the post office, the market and in Peirce,” he said. “Even if we don’t see a big crowd, we still do it for those who love it.”