Morning Coffee Miracle: A Return to the Power of Local Community

Morning Coffee Miracle: A Return
to the Power of Local Community

RICHFIELD SPRINGS – When I first visited my husband’s family in Richfield Springs back in 2007, my new grandma-in-law, Joyce Zvirzdin, told me what a thriving place Richfield Springs had been, how bustling the downtown area used to be—the restaurants, the spas, the shops, the cafés. I told her I wished I could have seen it.

Fast-forward to May 31, 2021, when the whole Zvirzdin family went to see the Memorial Day parade march down Main Street. It had rained that morning and I was freezing. Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching the various community groups in the parade—and the copious amounts of candy they threw out for our kids—I desperately wished for a hot coffee.

As groups marching in the parade threw colorful taffy, Smarties, AirHeads, and Tootsie Rolls to the people clapping and cheering on the sidewalks, I happened to glance behind me—and spotted the Richfield Springs Community Food Cooperative. Curious, I slipped inside. You can imagine my delight when I saw not just colorful goods for sale but also a café that sold a stellar latte—my favorite. My hands were as warm as my smile for the rest of the parade.

It was that day I also briefly met Dan Sullivan, who founded the co-op with Amy Wyant in 2018 and who volunteers daily on behalf of his community. During my subsequent trips to the co-op for another latte, or to take advantage of the coworking space, I came to know Dan better. Dan is a community man, and I find this attitude inspiring. I was so inspired, in fact, that I bought myself a blue Richfield Springs Community Food Cooperative T-shirt and wear it proudly around Washington, DC, where I teach science writing at Johns Hopkins University.

Pride in one’s city is the attitude of a co-op in general, where neighbors work together to build something greater than the sum of their parts.

“The co-op is all about community,” Dan told me. “Many people come in for information on rentals, contractors, plumbers—you name it!”

I was happy to hear, as a visitor, that although the Richfield Springs Community Food Cooperative encourages membership—and has almost 300 members now—the store and the café are for locals and visitors alike. Their business model, which sources local products, ensures that money earned at the co-op stays in the community.

“Our 70 vendors spend their commission checks on local businesses,” Dan added. “Contrast this with a franchise-type operation—McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts—which sends revenue out of the community.”

It is easy to see how small towns like Richfield Springs get sucked dry by big companies. As for me, since DC is always insanely expensive, I’m always happy when I visit family to run into town to grab a latte, buy some amazing local honey and flax seed, pick up some wool dryer balls for my mother-in-law, and invite my sisters-in-law to join me. I’m not made of money, but I take satisfaction in knowing that my money is building Richfield Springs.

Despite our highly individualistic, digitally obsessed nation, I think we are finally seeing a cultural turn back to our physical neighbors, our physical community spaces—and the Richfield Springs co-op is evidence of this. I don’t personally live in Richfield Springs—not yet, anyway—but if I did, you’d see me a lot more often at the Richfield Springs Community Food Cooperative with a smile and a latte, writing in the corner. I feel I have finally gotten a taste of what my Grandma Joyce was talking about.

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