Intelligentsia: Why Have You Forsaken Me?

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Nothing good lasts forever, especially the downtown-resident friendly evening hours of the Randolph Street Intelligentsia coffee bar. Earlier today, I praised Intelligentsia for being a class act, not the least reason for which their being the heir apparent to the crappy Starbucks on Madison Street as a coffee bar meeting the needs not just of office workers and tourists — who by definition are only transients in our neighborhood — but of those of us who call downtown Chicago home and have long jonesed for a neighborhood coffee bar open at hours that met our needs. Meaning, open after work, like every other coffee bar in the city outside of downtown.

Until today, Intelligentsia’s Randolph Street shop was open until 9 p.m. weeknights. This evening, without warning and without even removing from the front door the now incorrect business-hours sign that still says nine o’clock, Intelligentsia has decided to close the Randolph Street store at 7 p.m. As in, the hour the office workers can be counted on to have left for home, Intelligentsia’s staff now leave for home, too. Those of us who actually live in the neighborhood, a few blocks or, in a few cases, a few floors away, who in the past two months had come to rely on Intelligentsia as our late-night gathering spot…well, we’re out of luck.

The staff is still professional. The coffee is still great. But, unfortunately, if you’re a neighbor of Intelligentsia’s, someone who actually lives and works downtown and thereby adds to the safety, vitality, and economic health of the heart of Chicago, the coffee is now, obviously, not made for you.

According to a store staffer who answered the phone after 7 p.m., “there’s just not the business”. Right. On Randolph Street, in the summer, next to Millennium Park. Apparently, those are phantoms I see from my window or my evening walks pouring back and forth from Wicked to Borders to Michigan Avenue to Randolph Street station and, for that matter, to the far less classy Madison Street Starbucks and Borders coffee shops, who, themselves, manage to pour until the evening news.

If Intelligentsia cared at all about its resident customer base, 8 p.m. would have been a more realistic closing time. The new 7 p.m. last call allows no comfortable possibility for a neigborhood local to get home from work, have dinner, and go out to enjoy an Intelligentsia coffee. Something better than a mere six-week run (the Randolph Street store opened on April 28) to develop an after-work customer base would have been more realistic, too. Every evening and weekend visit I’ve made to Intelligentsia in the past month, I’ve witnessed more and more customers — local residents — taking up root with laptop, Faulkner, or love-interest in hand. Cutting us off midweek after six weeks with no advance warning is a surefire way to completely mess up the growing neighborhood goodwill that Intelligentsia had just begun to engender.

I also have to wonder at the thought process that would lead a store to cut back its hours but not to bother to change it’s business-hours sign. Perhaps the thinking was that the patrons who really matter — you know, the ones who don’t actually live in the neighborhood — wouldn’t be the ones to show up at the door after 7 p.m. to complain. Those of us, however, who live down here and did show up to be met with a mockingly incorrect hours sign and a locked door, myself included, got the gist of that thought process pretty quickly.

All is not lost, though. Loop locals can still merrily drink up when the midday office denizens and weekend trolley tourists are about. To my mind, poor daytime compensation from a generally classy coffee bar that has otherwise decided it’s OK after hours to treat downtown residents like afterthoughts. Not exactly the best way to endear yourself to your neighbors.

This neighbor, for one, will absent himself tomorrow morning to make more room for those daytime customers who Intelligentsia thinks really count. You know, the ones worth more than a six-week commitment. I’ve had colds stay with me longer than that.

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