When for art thou open, Romeo?

(Originally written as a response to maladr1n‘s post, but my response turned into an entry, so it’s here.)

Fuck Romeo. There I said it.

True, he was doing something for the arts and the local scene. True, he opened a coffee shop/art gallery. It was a noble idea and something that should be done ten-fold. True all that. But he was on a sole mission, by himself, in the face of obvious and overwhelming opposition.

1. He opened his shop on bar row. There’s nothing saying he couldn’t open something on a different street than 7th. When you go to the French Quarter, there’s plenty of diversity and places to go – especially art galleries – but guess what: not one of them is on Bourbon Street. Use your brain.

2. It would’ve helped if he was open, specifically during the hours he claimed he was open. When that place first opened, gonzonia and I went there three times over a month or so to hang out and write a play set in a coffeehouse of all places. Problem was, he was never open. One of those times, I could see him working in the back on his laptop so I called him. He answered and told me his hours. The rest of the conversation went like this:
“You’re open Thursdays?”
“Until 10?”
“Then why are all your lights off and the doors locked?”
“Oh… um, are you standing outside?”
“Oh, uh, we’re not open this Thursday.”
I swear to God, gonzonia and I thought it was a front.

I’m not keeping track of when he decides to be open. Also – and this is a tip for every pastry shop that calls itself a coffeehouse in the area – don’t close your shop when your demo is just getting started to go out for coffee. People – even artists – have day jobs. They hang out and drink their coffee at night. It’s the same reason why most bars do the majority of business at night. If you’re open in the day, you’d better be near a good university or a lot of soccer moms with time on their hands. Coffeehouse patrons go to coffee houses to socialize, to read/study and to go out without dealing with drunks. They do it at night. You serve coffee to keep them awake. Most people don’t need to be kept awake when the sun’s out.

3. He had a great, noble idea with a bad gameplan, and he ran it like the President: stay the course and win by being stubborn. It was destined to fail. When I went there to drop some cards off for a Jobsite show, he gave me this line about how he was only supporting local (read: Ybor) artists. That’d be great if he worked in East Greenwich and we worked out of the theater district in Manhattan. Maybe. But we work down the street from each other. He was so exclusive, he was the only one there. His shop woud’ve worked 15 years ago when there was Three Birds, Decades a Go Go, Sweet Charity, Blue Chair and an alleged artistic community. But you’re not going to outmuscle a successful club/bar industry with your sole business just because you’re from there and you feel like it. He could’ve operated in Seminole Heights around the corner from Frida’s (formerly of Ybor) and consolidated a demographic. He could’ve opened near USF, like the Penny successfully did. But no, he had to support the Ybor scene and the Ybor scene only. Want to know how great and dominant this Ybor arts scene is? Well, just ask Romeo’s accountant.

I will gladly support an independent coffeehouse, especially one that’s open late enough for me and all my friends to enjoy. Lots of people would. But it’s a slow business – you’re selling coffee – not exactly an expensive commodity. It requires steady traffic and loyal regulars. Most large cities have more coffeeshops than you can count. Last I counted, Tampa has zero. It should be a shooting hippos in a barrel. But it’s still a business, not a mission, or a charity, or something that’s going to acheive great things just because you want it to. Romeo’s wasn’t proof that a coffee house or gallery can’t succeed in this town. It was proof that you can’t run one with no regard for your patrons and what they want.

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