Community coffee shop set to close
By Cirien Saadeh Staff Reporter | Additional Reporting by Editor Kenzie O’Keefe
McKinley neighborhood received a surprise announcement in March. One of the community’s cornerstone gathering places, Serendripity Spot, decided not to renew its business license with the city. The future of the coffee shop, owned by Kelley Skumautz, remains unclear.
Serendripity Spot was founded three years ago after Skumautz said she approached McKinley Community (MC), the area’s neighborhood association, about leasing MC’s unoccupied space for a coffee shop.
“I established a relationship with the board of directors and proposed a lease option for a coffee shop. That lease has two parts. One is a straight agreement that is tenant-landlord. Another is a partnership agreement that has some intentionality about combining food and people programs, marketed to build community. That was started and signed between May and June of 2016,” said Skumautz.
In late-March 2019, a Serendripity Spot newsletter noted that the coffee shop would no longer be open for regular business, beginning April 1. The newsletter said the shop would continue serving drinks, sporadically, on a donation-basis. Skumautz made the decision in part after she was informed by MC, in Jan. 2019, that the neighborhood association no longer wanted her to conduct community engagement work, which she had been doing formally in partnership with them since Jan. 2018, and before that informally, as has been the plan when she launched Serendripity Spot.
“On Jan. 21st, I received verbal notification that the McKinley community no longer wanted to work together to conduct neighborhood engagement (this is after having several active partnerships and work agreements with one extending six months out from 12/26/18),” said Skumautz in a text message to North News. “At that time, I asked for a meeting to discuss lease terms. I met again with two reps of the board on 1/28 at which time they did not have an answer about extending lease terms to me or to a new entity should I wish to sell the business.”
According to Skumautz, because of the lack of communication from MC, she made the decision to discontinue her business license, as it is costly for a small business to renew their license. That license expired at the end of March.
“Given the $500+ expense to do that and no indication from McKinley that they wanted to combine resources by the time the renewal was due, I discontinued my license,” she said.
MC leadership saw this as a sign that Skumautz did not plan to continue her lease.
"She decided not to renew her business license which is what made us realize she did not intend to continue the lease," said MC Board Chair Lane Cunningham. At that time, according Cunningham, MC began discussing the future of the building.
A third party mediator was brought in on March 29. At that meeting, MC told Skumautz they were not continuing her lease and that a dissolution letter confirming the details of it would follow.
“To date, I have not received anything about dissolution in writing. Together we reviewed the terms at the outset of the lease plus partnership precedent that has occurred since and I am told I will have a response from them by the end of this week (4/12) with an offer re: dissolution. Just this past Sunday, I sent the new board president documentation verifying the work I had done on McKinley’s behalf,” Skumautz told North News on April 10.
According to Skumautz, a lack of communication by MC with the coffee shop has been an ongoing challenge, as has been a lack of transparency since it began a relatively recent revitalization.
“Overall, there was diminishing communication from the Board since August 2016. After that, they started losing board members and just a few people had time to do very little, so neighbors and residents started to do stuff together [here] anyway because they corner was open and active and able to harness new energy,” said Skumautz. “The McKinley Community’s resurgence seemed behind the scenes, exclusive, and lacked transparency. When MC ended the community engagement work together, I recommended a review of assets and obligations to inform decision making.” Skumautz said that the review process began on March 29.
Many community members have responded to the coffee shop’s announcement with disappointment.
“I used to go there when I was a kid and it was Jerry’s flower shop. I appreciated that it is a community gathering spot. I would meet there every Thursday with neighbors with coffee,” said Charmaine Wahlstrom, a Northsider and business owner. “I was at a meeting of Northside seniors recently and people were wondering about what they could do. Some offered to buy drinks or donate baked goods, because it’s important to us.”
Gabe Christensen, another Northsider and a McKinley resident who lives just a few blocks away from Serendripity, agrees. “I liked that it is a community gathering space, I appreciated that Kelley always worked to know people. I am sad to see the business coming to a close.”
Over its time Serendripity Spot has offered space for a number of community programs including Community Get Together and Coffee with [Ward 4 City Councilmember] Cunningham, both held on Thursdays.
Coffee with Cunningham has since moved to Mykonos Coffee & Grill on Lyndale Ave. N. “I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen in the future with Serendripity Spot, so I just figured it would be more predictable,” said Councilmember Cunningham, who is married to the MC Board Chair.
Community Get Together will still be occurring on Thursdays at Serendripity.
Skumautz plans on being open sporadically through June, as she continues to understand dissolution details with MC.
“With everything going on, feelings come and go. I'm in the middle. Absolutely, in the place of midpoint. There's a little tension holding both ways. Being in a place of 'I don't know,' feels really right. It feels really good and that new things are possible.” said Skumautz.
MC Board Chair Cunningham says the neighborhood organization, particularly new Executive Director Markella Smith, is working to keep the space open as a gathering place. “We are sad to see Serendripity go, but we look at this as an opportunity for McKinley Community to expand and deepen our roots and make a bigger impact," he said.