Although there may be trouble brewing for Blue State Coffee, a café slated to open this winter at 84 Wall St., part-owner Andrew Ruben ’11 is looking forward optimistically.
Ruben, who founded the café chain with his father, Marshall, opened his first branch in Providence, R.I., in 2006. But even as the progressive coffee shop — which has seen widespread anticipation — gets ready to open, several locals doubt whether Blue State will see much longevity in a traditionally tumultuous area for small businesses.
Blue State Coffee donates 10% of all sales to several progressive causes, such as Stop Global Warming and ActBlue. After each purchase, customers cast votes for the cause they support, which — at the end of the quarter — will be tallied and the money distributed according to the percentage of votes each receives.
Blue State Coffee’s future neighbors have seen a few stores come and ago, including a bakery and a gelato shop.
Phil’s Haircutters, which has been on Wall Street across from Silliman College since 1924, gets the most business of its three locations, according to 13-year owner Pasquale DeSisto. But three months ago, Yale paid Phil’s to move two stores down so Blue State Coffee could have the combined space of three stores.
DeSisto said that despite a monthly rent increase of $500, compelling him to raise prices for services, business has stayed the same. Because most of Phil’s customers are regulars, the new location hasn’t hurt either.
“Wherever we go, people follow us,” he said.
Wall Street Pizza is also located across from Silliman College. But, unlike Phil’s — which relies on regulars — a large majority of its patrons are Yale students. For owner Celso Marrichi, this is why visibility is essential.
“This street, when you [students] aren’t around, is a dead street,” he said. “If they’re gonna charge Starbucks prices, they’ll only get rich Yale students.”
Members of political organizations on campus have yet to establish relations with Blue State Coffee, and were largely unaware of the store’s opening.
Still, some were optimistic.
“Having [meetings] in a place that shares our political ideals is a cool concept,” Yale for Obama co-director Jacob Koch ’10 said. “As a student, I definitely think [Drew] has a good perspective of what should attract students.”
Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 was also hopeful.
“We certainly have a lot of coffee shops in New Haven, but the premise of Blue State is a little bit different,” she said. “The town certainly has a lot of Democrats, and Yale is a pretty good target audience for the store.”
Through it all, Ruben said his business model is unique.
“The point is not that we charge you more,” Ruben said. “The point is that there is no extra expense to you to help out local progressive causes.”
The Blue State Coffee branch in Providence has already given over $60,000 to local charities based off of its revenue.
“We’ve learned a lot from the Providence store about what works and what doesn’t,” Ruben said.
Blue State Coffee differs from other Yale coffee shops in its layout, as well as its mission, he explained. Three store spaces were combined to make the 55-seat, 1,800-square-foot space. It will also have free Wi-Fi and sufficient lighting for studying.
Still, the spirit of Blue State Coffee hasn’t changed much since its inception in 2006.
“Initially our focus was on national causes,” Ruben said. Soon, he realized “the best thing to do is helping people on a local level.”
Ruben believes Blue State is a “very good thing for New Haven,” especially when current economy could mean increased homelessness and poverty.
Though it’s not a coincidence that the current locations of Blue State are in college towns, this is not the rule.“Colleges are a strong market of coffee-consumers with strong political beliefs on one side or the other,” Ruben said.
Blue State also anticipates working with Yale students.
“We do plan on partnering with progressive groups on campus,” Ruben said. “We’d like to do all sorts of events.”
Blue State Coffee also hosts art shows, local artists and poetry readings. Both Kal Penn and Al Franken have visited the shop in Providence.
Blue State Coffee’s third café will open in January at the Brown University bookstore.