Monday, May 28, 2012

Dogs of Fear Pursue Old Lady on a Bike

I wake up each morning feeling like a cyclist pursued by a pack of barking dogs, namely my own fears, doubts, and self-recriminations,. What a stupid idea to open a coffee and bike shop in a neighborhood where folks are friendly and nice but don’t have many dimes to rub together. What was I thinking to blithely throw away my family’s safety and security in the middle of the worst recession since the one I was born into back into back in1939? Yesterday we took $123.10 into the till (and that was a fairly good day) what with our daily overhead expenses totaling nearly $300. What do I know about business anyway, having spent nearly all my working life within the safe territory of dependable government employment?

I conceived this crazy idea after the closure of Kwik Cup Espresso, the only place where decaf espresso could be bought in my neighborhood. “A neighborhood is not really a neighborhood without a coffee shop,” I said.

My original business plan, developed in May of 2010, declared that we had no competition, other than from a few East African and Vietnamese deli’s and bakeries that wouldn’t think of serving decaf espresso, let alone cappocino’s, frothy flavored lattes, and all the rest.

During the year and a half it took to get a permit from the city, Starbucks opened inside Safeway across the street. By this time our basement was full of espresso machines, grinders, refrigerators, café tables, sinks, plumbing, etc.. It was too late to turn back.

On the very same day the trailer that would house our Whistle Stop Co-op coffee and bike shop was moved onto its lot beside Othello light rail station, I made up a stack of brochures and ran over to distribute them at the opening celebration of the new apartment building on the opposite corner. “I’m opening a coffee and bike shop across the street,” I proudly proclaimed to an attractive young woman as I thrust a brochure into her hand.

The woman stared at me not too cheerfully. “I’m going to open a coffee shop right here in this building,” she said.

And that she did. A few months after the Whistle Stop Grand Opening Celebration, there appeared across the street a much bigger, fancier coffee shop than Whistle Stop ever thought of being. The intersection of Martin Luther King Way and Othello Street has four corners. One contains a five acre vacant lot that had been planned for development but abandoned after the recession. The other three now have espresso coffee shops.

So here sits Whistle Stop Co-op today, a sweet, restful space to hang out in despite that it’s basically a slightly glorified single wide trailer landscaped all around with little native plants struggling to take root at a busy intersection.

The Buddhist philosophy I’ve been studying tells me not to run from the dogs of fear but to get off my bike and look at them. Face my fears. Have compassion for myself and for them

So I’m standing there trying to befriend the dogs of fear with every bone I can think of.

Applying for grants
Sending out the Whistle Stop Weekly to members and friends
Contacting groups that might like to meet here
Inviting people to join the co-op
Organizing neighborhood projects and clean ups
Holding meetings, events and workshops
Trying to improve and re-improve the Whistle Stop menu

We’re using Whistle Stop as a venue to further community building, peace and justice activities, and other good causes especially alternative transportation. In fact, Whistle Stop will soon receive a $7K grant from Climate Action Network to give out free bikes and Orca transit passes as well as help with planning commute trips, weather apparel advise,to reduce car usage.

Whistle Stop Co-op isn’t trying to make a profit. That’s against our Articles of Incorporation. We just want to break even and, if possible eventually pay back some of the huge investment my husband Dick and I made from our retirement savings. It doesn’t cost anything to join, but if we were ever to make profits those would be divided among the customers according to how much they had spent and the employees according to how much they worked.

Right now we have 529 members. If every member or friend bought one meal and/or latte per week, or had their bike fixed, we’d be able to make the $300 a day and Whistle Stop would still be here this time next year.

Or you could make a donation to Democracy Works which helps Whistle Stop provide free bikes for poor kids, support our community building and educational projects, etc. To find the donation button, go to and click on Democracy Works at the bottom of the page.

Your feed back is also welcome at



Daphne said...

I SO respect and appreciate your and Dick's commitment to this community in setting up Whistle Stop! And Mona, I love that you're chronicling this in the blog. I'll certainly make sure I come at least once a week to buy my Americano and will encourage others to do so too. As they say, Keep the Faith!

Old Lady on a Bike said...

Many thanks, Daphne. You are a gift to our neighborhood and the world.

Kent Peterson said...

You and Dick are doing a good thing, acting locally and being the change you want to see in the world. I don't get to your neighborhood that often but when I do you can be damn sure I'll stop in for coffee & I'll do what I can to point my Seattle pals your way.

Lindsay said...

Sorry you are in the midst of this stressful time- wish I lived closer, my son and I would LOVE, and literally long for such a cool destination for our fact if I lived closer you might start to think of me as a pest. Lindsay

velocycling said...

" befriend the dogs of fear "

You need to look those dogs in the eyes and tell them to "Sit and Stay!"

Ginny Nicarthy said...

Mona, I'm so pleased to find this entertaining, provocative blog - and yes, the stories, however frustrating. Apparently the hazard of putting a fine idea to work, is that others have more or less the same fine idea, with a lot more money to put it into play. It's a good thing you are practiced at meeting challenges! ;-)

I have a request I want to make if you will email me at my first initial and last name AT broadstripe dot net.

John Helmiere said...

You've taken action when you saw a need, which is very difficult. And now you're being honest with your fears, which is very courageous. I'm inspired and proud of your tenacity and honesty, Mona.

Also, the great thing is that you've already succeeded. Most endeavors like yours are intended to make profit for the shareholders, so their success is determined by the till (and by the way, most coffee shops take years to build a customer base that even allows them to break even). But, you're goal isn't to make a pile of money, but to build community, strengthen neighborhood identity, and provide a setting that generates creativity, justice, artistry, liberation and love. The music of your success is far more euphonic than the jingling of coins.
Here's to your continued success,