'A dogfight every day' for coffee shops as COVID changes habits

With so many of us working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, or just not leaving the house all that much anymore, America's coffee shops are suffering, including in Milwaukee, with the downtown sector hit especially hard.

The Third Ward cafe is one of several Colectivo shops closed for the short term. They saw an 8% revenue drop overnight.

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In Riverwest, customers spaced out for social distancing must order "to-go," unable to sit in their normally popular cafe.

"That's been sort of a big blow to us," said Scott Schwebel, Colectivo vice president. "We've built our cafes as a place to commune and come together."

That's just a fraction of the challenge the coffee industry has faced during the pandemic. Customers haven't lost their love for the go-juice -- they just aren't going anywhere like they used to.

Scott Schwebel

"Everybody's patterns have totally changed, or don't exist the way they used to exist," said Schwebel. "A lot of our customers -- we were part of their habitual daily routine or daily delight, so that's kind of gone away temporarily."

Schwebel said the company adapted to encourage mobile and curbside orders, only temporarily closing a handful of shops, but others, like Stone Creek Coffee's Walker's Point location, haven't fared as well -- the doors permanently closed.

"I think for us, as well as other coffee shops or people in our industry, it's been a dogfight every day," said Schwebel.

With talks of a vaccine coming soon, Schwebel said Colectivo, and really any other small business, are watching closely, eager to get back to normal.

"We're still planning that maybe there will be this outrageous return to people wanting to commune, and be with each other and be in smaller places," said Schwebel. "I do think it'll probably take a little bit of time."

Colectivo will happily welcome customers inside again, but their efforts to adapt amid the pandemic, like curbside pickup, are here to stay.