Section: Features

Despite evolution, coffee shop remains community staple

Despite evolution, coffee shop remains community staple

Wiggin Street Coffee fulfills its roll on campus despite pandemic
. | Courtesy of Sophie Krichevsky

Wiggin Street Coffee has gone through many names and owners during its time on campus, but it has always managed to foster a sense of community among its patrons. According to an April 1995 Collegian article, the idea to start a coffee shop was born after students gave “constructive yet unfeasible criticism” about Common Ground, Kenyon’s student-operated coffee house at the time. Instead of making the improvements, a new coffee house was proposed by the Kenyon Coffeehouse Committee, a Kenyon Senate subcommittee. In addition to the general need for a coffee shop, the school also wanted to create a late-night space for students “not interested in drinking alcohol or attending parties where alcohol is the primary beverage.” 

The College settled on refurbishing a building called the KC, which was a space used as a party venue by groups that didn’t have their own place. The Kenyon Coffeehouse Committee stated in their report that they decided to lease to a privately owned coffee shop in the space because it had “the character that would complement a coffeehouse.” They also thought having an independently owned shop would be the most stable and dependable model. 

By early 1996, a new coffee shop, the Red Door Cafe, replaced Common Ground. It continued operating until their lease expired in 2003. “The College felt the cafe hadn’t met the expectations of the lease, because it [Red Door] was unable to maintain the late-night hours and create a safe late-night alternative to partying,” a January 2017 Collegian article states.  

After this lease expired, the Kenyon Coffeehouse Committee once again searched for a company to take over the space, and Middle Ground Coffee opened later in 2003. Middle Ground was owned by a married couple, Joel Gunderson and Margaret Lewis, who also own the Village Inn. The two met at Oberlin College and eventually moved to Gambier, where Gunderson’s father taught art at Kenyon. The cafe was more food-focused than the Wiggin Street Coffee we know today. The two had to manage both Middle Ground and the Village Inn, but decided to cease operations on the coffee shop in 2012 and focus on the Inn after nearly a decade of dealing with strenuous work hours. The establishment was then taken over by the River Road Coffeehouse chain, which rebranded the store as the Wiggin Street Coffee.

Currently, dots placed six feet apart line the floor so patrons can maintain their distance from one another while they wait to order, and students pick their coffee through an opening in the plastic barriers on the counter. Despite this, many are hopeful that things will return to the Wiggins will once again be a place where students and community members alike gather and study.

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