Vassalboro's new coffee shop? Not my cup of tea.
Times are hard in Vassalboro, Maine.
Donald Crabtree has tried to make it as a contractor and a wholesale lobsterman, without much luck. But he hasn't lost the will to keep trying to grab on to that elusive brass ring.
So he will be opening a coffee shop - and it won't be a pedestrian old knockoff of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.
No, Crabtree's coffee shop will be topless, making his employees - male and female alike - bare-istas of sorts. (Or is is no-bra-istas?)
This was reported in the Boston Globe the other day, and - as a former (and perhaps future) waitress - I read the article with interest.
In a long-vacant building that once housed Mac Daddy's Pub at the Fat Cat Grille, Crabtree plans topless service between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 25 tables arranged on a checkerboard floor behind blacked-out windows and a cordon of security.
Blacked-out windows will, of course, be a necessity. Crabtree certainly won't want any Lookie-loos standing on the sidewalk, holding their cup of joe from DD's staring in at the DD's working at his cafe. This blacked-out window business harkens back to what was standard operating procedure for the taverns in the 'hood of my youth: curtained windows so that no one could look in and see who was hunched at the bar enjoying a mid-day Boilermaker or bottle of Knickerbocker when he should have been at work. In this case, the black out will serve a dual purpose: you won't see the goods, nor will you see the patrons.
Even if I were to find myself in Vassalboro, Maine, anytime soon - which is highly unlikely - I'm not apt to make my way into Donald Crabtree's Topless Coffee Shop.
I have no interest in a peep show, whether the peep-ee is male or female. Even if I were a coffee drinker, this is just not my cup of tea.
But I am not, of course, the target demographic for this business.
Whether I am the targeted demo for this business or not, I do have a business person's reservation about the likelihood that this place can succeed. These reservations fall fairly neatly into two buckets: attracting clientele and attracting employees.
Even for those so inclined to take their cup-a while making guesses about cup size, I don't imagine that there'll be a ton of repeat business. Reasons why I think this:
- Our town. Vassalboro is a relatively small town and, blacked out windows aside, people are going to know who's checking in to check things out. Most people will overlook someone's going in once out of curiosity, but I would guess that few people will want to be identified as habitués.
- It's the money, honey. Presumably, a topless waitress or waiter will be doing it for the tips. Especially in this economy, folks are going to be only so willing to fork over extra $$$ when what they really need is a shot of caffeine, not a shot of some tootsie's naked flesh.
- All the free time in the world. Even when there's high unemployment, people do work during the day, when the Topless will be open. People who hang out in coffee shops - beyond the get-in-get-out patrons - tend to be "consultants," writers, college students, retirees, and moms with kids. For consultants, in the long term, wireless would probably attract more customers than topless. Ditto for writers. For college students (Colby College is not far away), I would guess that the novelty, even among frat boys, will wear off pretty quickly. Besides, the parents of Colby students aren't forking over all that money for a liberal arts education so that their kids can hang out in the Topless Coffee Shop.
Retirees? I can't exactly see the gray-haired gang heading out for a cup of coffee after daily Mass deciding to make the Topless their hangout. Plus old geezer-ettes outnumber old geezer by a huge factor, and the Topless - despite the diversity factor of offering topless waiters - is clearly not aimed at the distaff side of the house.
Moms with kids? Well, you have to be 18 years old to patronize the Topless. Not to mention that I can't see the average parent wanting to listen to a 3 year old holler "Why is that lady bare?", or to watch their 2 year old trying to wrestle her Disney Princess tee-shirt off "But, Mommy, if that lady doesn't have to wear a shirt...."
So, yes, I can see that there'd be a clientele problem. Then there's the problem of attracting employees.
- This is Maine, not Key West. I don't care how toasty-warm the Topless Coffee Shop thinks they're going to be able to keep the joint, every time that door opens, brrrrrrrr. Who's going to want to be standing around in the wintry Maine draft. I've worked in drafty old restaurants and baby, it can be cold inside. And that's when you're fully dressed, and wearing a sweater.
- It's the money, honey. I'm guessing that most people who want to make a buck off their breasts would rather do it in some sort of bar, pub, or strip joint that's apt to attract a more regular, less sober, and thus more free-spending clientele.
While I guess there'll be some who are willing to go topless for some amount of money, but who wouldn't dream of doing a poll dance in a g-string, I'm guessing that there may not be all that many of them. I would think that most of the waitresses so disposed to go topless would just as soon take a bit more off for a lot more money.
- Splish-splash. The worst burn I ever got was when a waitress using the wrong entrance into the Durgin Park kitchen collided with me while I was carrying four cups of coffee. In my case, my wrists were badly scalded. I shudder to think....
Then there's the potential problem of employee discrimination.
I'm sure that Donald Crabtree envisions a retinue of nubile, perky waitresses, with nubile perky breasts. Yes, he's looking for some diversity:
"We're not just going to pick someone off the street," Crabtree said of his staff. "They've got to be friendly, and we'll try to hire a variety of sizes. Not everyone likes a skinny girl. Not everyone likes a big girl. I think it's important to have a variety."
But what happens when a very skilled, 72 year old with scads of coffee shop experience and a friendly demeanor applies for a job - with great experience, but perhaps with breasts that are not quite so perkily nubile any longer.
Maybe not everyone likes a skinny girl or a big girl, but I'm guessing the the operative word here is "girl".
So how do you tell somebody's great-grandmother that she doesn't get the job?
I wish Donald Crabtree all the best.
Although there's some opposition to his venture in Vassalboro, the feeling seems to be more one of general sorrow and resignation about the town's worsening economic prospects.
Paul Mitnik, the town's code enforcement officer and plumbing inspector, concurred that Vassalboro could use a lift.
"Any kind of business we could get here would be good," said Mitnik, who declared himself officially neutral on the propriety of such a shop. "But I think the novelty of the topless staff will wear off pretty quickly.
That said, Mitnik seemed sadly wistful that such an enterprise has emerged as a partial answer to Vassalboro's economic prayers.
"I'd like to see a business that people accept more, that everybody feels good about," Mitnik said. "A lot of people are making a joke about it. But for many people in town, it's not a joke at all.