After the Finger Lakes Running Company moved its storefront to 700 Cascadilla St., neighboring business Home Green Home took the opportunity to expand both the store’s footprint and its product offerings.
Over the past year, owner Megan Vidler has taken advantage of the additional space and added house plants, green living books and an increased selection of zero-waste and reusable products.
However, Vidler desired to take the business beyond retail by creating a welcoming, community-oriented space inside of the shop. In order to manifest this key piece of her vision, Vidler approached local artist and barista Caleb Harrington.
“I was interested in building community and having a place where people could hang out and feel the Home Green Home vibe. I knew of Caleb and I knew of his pop-up in Press Bay Alley,” explained Vidler, referring to a small boutique of local crafts Harrington had curated in the former Boxy Bikes location. “I knew I wanted a café or some sort of food business, both for the foot traffic and for the community building, but as soon as I knew Caleb was looking [to open a café], he was the one I wanted.”
Harrington said she was similarly enthusiastic about the partnership.
“At the time, I was looking at several different spaces, but when I found out that Home Green Home wanted me, I knew that this was it,” he said. “My vision for the café is a community space, a small café where people feel comfortable spending long periods of time, hanging out at the bar, having long conversations and chilling with other people.”
In recent weeks, the back corner of the shop has seen a slow transformation from blank walls to a cozy coffee shop nook: clusters of framed illustrations, a handmade café bartop and a swath of millennial pink on the walls denote the future home of Nothing Nowhere.
“I began working as a barista out of high school. I was interested in pursuing a creative route with my life, and I quickly found out that college might not be the best decision for the arts,” Harrington said. “So, after working as a barista at several different cafés, I knew that I wanted to learn more about the industry, and so I moved to Ithaca with the hopes of working for Gimme! Coffee.”
Harrington spent three years working at Gimme! in that time period, and he and his friend, Samantha Mason, decided to start the unionization efforts that are still going on.
“I knew that if I wanted to continue going down this road, it was time I look into doing it myself,” he said.
The café will place equal emphasis on serving interesting beverages, cultivating conversation, promoting sustainability and encouraging learning. These shared core values explain why Vidler and Harrington felt so positively about entering into a business partnership.
In regards to the beverages, Harrington plans to introduce patrons to a few roasters not carried elsewhere in town.
“I’m most excited to work with my friends over at Superior Merchandise. They’re in Troy, New York. Their coffee is called Touchy Coffee Roasters. But there is no want for cool and interesting coffee,” he said. “I’m interested in stocking Speckled Axe which is a wood-fired coffee roaster out of Maine. And there’s also Oddly Correct, which embraces traditional print run packaging. And so, having those folks – who have been such inspirations to me – to be in my café would be wonderful.”
Harrington also intends to add tea, kombucha and fresh juice later on and is looking to round out the menu with small food items.
“I’m working with two bakers to figure out some non-Euro-centric pastries. Hopefully it will offer some alternatives to the bagels and scones that we have a lot of here,” he said.
As one might expect, a café located inside of a green lifestyle shop would certainly seek to prioritize sustainable practices.
For Nothing Nowhere, this began with the build-out. Harrington is a volunteer at the Ithaca Generator – a local makerspace which provides workshops and tools for a variety of hands-on, creative endeavors.
“Everything that we’ve built so far has been created at the Ithaca Generator,” he said. “It’s been a big community experience. The bar has had about 12 different people working on it. This table –” Harrington gestured to a long table situated near the bar “–all worked on at the Generator, all from lumber from Danby Hardwoods. It’s all one tree that’s been ship lapped out and mirrored through veneers.”
An obvious place to start is with their cups – and here, creativity abounds. The cups are handmade porcelain made by a local experimental ceramic artist Sarah Cherin, each stamped with the café’s logo: an arrow tracing several infinity loops.
To encourage guests to use the reusable cups, there will be a charge for disposable cups. Each paper cup will also have the print edition printed on it – a subtle, tongue-in-cheek way to illustrate their impermanence.
“One long-term goal is to be able to produce cups over at the Ithaca Generator, especially jars that can be used for travel,” Harrington said.
They also hope to incorporate Home Green Home’s reusable products into the café’s operations in some way.
Like every other detail, the café’s name was very deliberate.
“I was told that I would amount to nothing and that I would go nowhere, and so I decided to lean into that,” Harrington said.
Ultimately, all these details are simply the backdrop for an experience centering education outreach, and the development of connections. Vidler has long desired to host workshops and presentations about green lifestyle issues, and Harrington is passionate about educating people about food systems.
Nothing Nowhere will host a variety of events, beginning with a month-long LocalFiber pop-up. LocalFiber is a community of small-flock fiber producers in the central and Finger Lakes regions of New York who collaborate to help each other navigate the fiber supply chain and to promote local products. On Wednesdays through Sundays, beginning Nov. 21 through Dec. 29, 20 vendors selling both raw materials and finished products will take up residence in the café space.
At the time of the interview, Vidler was sure to emphasize that this was just the beginning.
“We’re not too focused on Caleb’s space versus my space. This is what we’re starting with, but I have a feeling that there’s going to be a lot of flow,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about the future of retail being [experimental]. I think this is a big part of that, and I think taking it further it’s about really building that community. We’re going to have seating out front in the good weather, and I think that this is just the way we’re going to do the place-making.”
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