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— The nightly entertainment at Lestat's "has ended up being great for us," Husler says. "It doesn't make us a lot of money directly, but it's great for word-of-mouth advertising. A lot of musicians' friends come in to see the show, and they tell their friends and we get exposed to a lot of people who otherwise would not know about us."

Lestat's hours of operation, Husler believes, give it another advantage over the Starbucks across the street. "We haven't closed in five years," he says. "We're open all night. It's been great for us. Starbucks has tried to compete by staying open to midnight, but they're pretty empty after nine."

In those overnight hours, "We get a lot of young people, a lot of gamers with laptops. After two, we get the closing-bar crowd. And we actually get a lot of cops and firemen overnight, and they're very welcome here."

Free Internet access is another survival tool for indie coffeehouses. At Starbucks, Internet access costs from $6 an hour to $39.99 for a monthly pass. "We started offering Wi-Fi seven years ago," Husler says. "It's funny, it used to be people brought books to read at the coffee shop, books to read or a notebook to write in. Now people bring laptops."

Since the Starbucks opened across the street, Husler says, "They've taken some of our morning business. But overall, business has actually lifted. We've found that we're getting a sort of sympathy vote. People are coming here in defiance of them being across the street. So overall, we're thriving. I'd say we've had a 5 percent increase."

Farther east on Adams, where it intersects Marlborough, stands what was known as the Kensington Coffee Company until it was bought by San Diego Coffee, Tea and Spice, a local coffee-roasting company owned by 39-year-old Steve May. Now it's officially called San Diego Coffee, Tea and Spice at Kensington, though locally it's still usually called Kensington Coffee. It's a low-slung, two-room café with a mix of tables and armchairs. A fenced-off patio out front offers a view of passersby walking dogs, kids playing at the park across the street, and Starbucks doing business kitty-corner. Mays says he bought Kensington Coffee three years ago, despite the Starbucks across the street, because "it was just an opportunity to get into one that was established, and at the same time, we are kind of purists, and we wanted to go back to that down-home, community coffee place."

And it's that community feel he points to when asked how his shop survives in the Starbucks era. "That really is the key," he says. "A lot of people say to us, 'You are right across from Starbucks. How do you stay in business?' Well, if we didn't have that community loyalty, that following, it wouldn't work. And I think a lot of our neighborhoods -- like Kensington, O.B., and places like that -- they don't like going to a Starbucks, the corporate monster, as some people call it. They want to get away from that. So I think we actually do better than the Starbucks does in Kensington. I don't know their numbers, but judging from the sheer people that are in the seats, I think we do a better business."

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cafehunt March 16, 2008 @ 9:37 a.m.

Check out http://www.cafehunt.com for a list of independent coffee shops. Don't forget to contribute independent coffee shops around you there.


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