“People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, OK? They come to Chotchkie’s for the atmosphere and the attitude.” – Stan, from “Office Space”
Yes, it was my favorite coffee in town (but, admittedly, not by much). It was priced reasonably. And, for some reason, the caffeine always hit me twice as hard and by the end of, say, an important business meeting, my seemingly palsied hands and I would be sitting on the ceiling.
But I never went to the Steaming Bean for the coffee.
I went because it was always bright and/or sunny inside the Bean, both in terms of the light and the energy. I went because I could always pick up a bit of community buzz. I went for the rotating art hung on the walls and for the din of people typing, working, meeting and creating. I went because it was as close to a community nerve center as I’ve ever been a part of – where I could count on running into a friend or meeting a new one.
But the biggest reason I went in, and the source of all the other reasons I went in, was this force of pure magic, glitz, spunk, creativity, charisma, wit, joy, energy, dynamism, beauty, intelligence and all-out sassiness: Erica Fendley.
If you haven’t heard by now, the Bean is shutting its doors Friday. The reasons why will make you want to commit illegal acts of aggression, like they have with me. Without getting too much into the mud, it comes down to this: You have a business owner and tenant who had created and wanted to build on a dynamic space of community, art, music and all-around goodness, and out-of-state building owner, James Giorgio, who, to put it mildly, didn’t, and made sure the rent he charged wouldn’t allow it. Couple that with a litigated building renovation process that was grossly underestimated in terms of cost and otherwise wholly “unprofessional” as the ever-gracious, high-roading Erica puts it.
In the end, we don’t just lose a coffee shop. We lose a dynamic space that was unrivaled in this town and, at least temporarily I hope, we lose Erica’s spirit and energy on Main Avenue with her bright vintage duds and unmistakable and undeniable fro-ed out orange hair. But we also lose the vision she had for the Bean, the what-could’ve-been, the reason she bought the business in the first place.
“The vision that I had was born from a season of real brokenness in my life, of transition,” Erica said in her endearing raspy, whiskey voice, which, on this day was down to a heightened whisper she attributed to stress. “When I came to Durango, I’d really lost a lot. And the Bean served as such a hub of growth, of rejuvenation, and really, for the first time, a community where I felt not judged in. I just felt accepted and that I could come to work, I could come to this place and have a community that was just, straight up, ‘I like you for you.’”
At the time she moved to Durango she wasn’t doing alcohol. She was working through personal stuff and found it difficult to be social without drinking. In those two years before she bought the Bean, Erica wanted to create an intentional space “where there was accountability for the intention of your life.”
“Are you living aware? Not, are you boozin’ and druggin’? Not church, but not a bar,” she said. “Like that beautiful medium where you find community and celebrations of expressions of life, not in the spiritual context that was laden with shame, but also not in a bar context. There were these understood dynamics that created this place of real community that I felt was worth waking up for.”
This is what she wanted to facilitate, and she saw an opportunity at the Bean.
“I gathered around a group of people that could teach me things I didn’t know how to do and I bought the Bean with the help of this amazing community. I mean, I lived in a trailer named Junebug. I didn’t come from tons of money, but this community rallied around me and we made it happen.”
The building was also bought around the same time, and Giorgio impeded her ability to run her business according to her vision, mainly in terms of her desire to host live music, a significant monetary portion of her initial business plan. Losing the ability to have live music, in addition to the cost and headaches of the legal issues involving the renovation, made it a shell of a business and unsustainable, Erica said.
The lessons she’s walking away with are tough and unforgiving but teachable. She’s learned that some situations, no matter how kind and amenable you are, how willing you are to solve issues and how reconcilable a situation seems, some situations, some people will not budge.
“Sometimes in business, sometimes in relationships, it just doesn’t work,” she said. “And that doesn’t mean I change my approach, that I stop working hard or stop taking the high road or whatever. Maybe I’m a little more patient ... to trust my gut and accept that I have limits ... which sucks. It’s hard to be a catalyst of change and then come up short and feel like you let people down. It’s hard to take that risk of being so public and also so fallible. And I’m OK with that. It’s absorbing the impact that this is having on so many people, so many people. And I know it’s as a result of my willingness to take risks and be courageous and blah, blah, blah. But it comes with a price.”
It’s heartbreaking. Erica and the Bean embody everything that makes Durango special. It’s a shame, a waste, a case where the bad guys have seemingly won (I hope they all get theirs ... hard). But I’m not counting Erica out. She’s too strong, too smart, too courageous to not do something even greater. Maybe that’s in two weeks or two years. But whatever Erica’s up to, I know I want to be there. I’m guessing so many of you would, too.