Richmond coffee shops face closures, layoffs during COVID-19

Coffee shops in the Richmond area have closed their doors and shifted to online orders to keep their businesses running in response to COVID-19. Photo by Jon Mirador.

Jiana Smith, Contributing Writer

Before closing shop on March 23, Eric Spivack, owner of The Lab by Alchemy Coffee, saw a noticeable decrease in customers.

Staff had removed tables and chairs, and put an end to on-site consumption in order to prevent crowds. They communicated the steps they were taking to keep staff and customers safe and informed the public that the shop was still open.

“That just wasn’t enough,” Spivack said over the phone. 

As the daily lives of many Americans grinded to a halt due to COVID-19, the food industry followed suit with small businesses, including Richmond’s coffee shops, taking the brunt of the rapid changes. 

“As a small business, we basically live paycheck to paycheck, like most of our staff,” read a March 17 Facebook post from Lamplighter Coffee Roasters. 

On March 23, Lamplighter closed its last open location on Addison Street. The stores continue to offer delivery options through online orders.

“We should never be put in a position to choose between our health and our livelihoods,” the post stated. “The reality of our current system is that many people are forced to make this choice all the time, coronavirus or not.”

The post stated much of Lamplighter’s staff was laid off so that they could seek unemployment benefits and that excess perishable food was given to staff and local organizations. 

Spivack said his staff had to seek unemployment when the shop closed due to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to close dine-in restaurants. Now, Spivack is waiting on details concerning small business loans and federal relief.

Lamplighter Coffee Roasters recently closed its three locations to the public and have shifted to online orders. Photo by Jon Mirador.

“Not everything is in place yet, so we’re waiting to hear all that,” Spivack said. “We’re hoping to use those resources to bring people back on.” 

Ironclad Coffee Roasters, located in Shockoe Bottom, remains open with curbside pickup and delivery options. Their reasons for not shutting down, according to a Facebook post from the restaurant, included concern for staff, community service and customer morale.

“We need your business,” another Facebook post from Ironclad stated. “That’s why we are adapting and innovating so rapidly, regardless of the difficulties associated with each change.”

Ironclad recently launched the Cold Brew for Our Helpers project as a gesture of gratitude to COVID-19’s first responders. So far, they have delivered 30 gallons of cold coffee and 100 bags of coffee to doctors and nurses in the VCU‌ Health System free of charge.

“We consider ourselves to be in a unique position to help boost both the morale and the energy levels of these men and women as they carry on their work,” owner Ryan O’Rourke wrote in a statement on Ironclad’s blog. “We love this city and the people who are going to great efforts to make it a better place to live, work, and play. Right now, it’s difficult to imagine anyone doing that in a greater capacity than our healthcare workers.” 

Greenbriar Cafe and Coffeehouse announced their closure on March 22, citing the safety of their families, staff and customers as their motivation. 

“Greenbriar WILL BE BACK as soon as it’s safe for us to return, so have no fear – we’ll be excited to see you again when this is all over,” Greenbriar stated on Facebook. “Please take good care of yourselves, and we look forward to seeing you ASAP!” 

Greenbriar is selling gift certificates, and the proceeds of which can be donated to FeedMore, a non-profit that provides food to those in need in Central Virginia. 

Heri Solis, general manager of The Lab by Alchemy Coffee, said over the phone that he’s trying to stay positive and keep a routine while looking to the future. 

“Honestly, I’m just looking forward to the same stuff I was doing every day,” Solis said. “I’m looking forward to going to work, hanging out with my friends, dancing, everything.” 

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