As I write this, soothing bluegrass music is being piped through loudspeakers, underscoring the soft drone of nearby conversations. Loud clacks of metal kitchen instruments from the back punctuate the ambient noise. Through tall windows, I can see the local museum and theatre, lined with leafless trees and brick sidewalks, over which hang a slate gray sky. Cars slowly drive by.
A customer walks into the shop, ringing the bell. He approaches the counter, leans over it, and calls out, “How are you guys this morning?” The cheery barista comes out, greets the customer by name, and asks what it will be this morning.
They chat back and forth as she fills his order. He asks about the new bakery items in the display case. The naming of prices and taking of money are treated as unwanted necessities that get in the way of their conversation. She gives him his cup of coffee, the customer chats to other customers on his way out the door, and the barista turns her attention to someone else, who is also greeted by name.
Such is a morning at The Clay Pot Coffee Shop, a small independent store near the corner of Dargan and Cheves Streets in my little city of Florence, South Carolina.
Paintings by local artists hang on the walls, all of which are for sale, and if you follow a hallway pass the counter, you’ll enter a gallery of more art. The clay cups for in-store use are thrown by Peggy, the owner. It’s her daughter, Sara, working the counter this morning, as she does most mornings. Today, they’re serving a Kenyan coffee but they also serve and sell Cashua coffee. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of Cashua coffee. It’s roasted in South Carolina. When they start to make lunch, they’ll use organic ingredients sourced locally. The furniture is an eclectic assortment of tables, chairs, and benches.
By choosing this place (over, say, Dunkin’ Donuts) for my coffee and for hanging out, I’m supporting local artists, farmers, coffee roasters, and entrepreneurs. I’m not saying that the people working at Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as the people who supply what go into that venture, aren’t worthy of support. But there’s something more honest about this. The people selling their art would probably have a tougher time of it in a larger commercial setting. Cashua coffee probably wouldn’t come under the notice of a big chain store. And then there’s the local economy, which is the amorphous thing I hear people mention as a reason to “eat local, drink local, and be a local”. But that local economy comes with real faces, like Sara’s.
At the end of February, I’ll be holding my first book reading here. It seems more than a little fitting. I’m a local artist, only my paint comes in the form of words and paragraphs. I don’t throw clay mugs and saucers on a wheel, but I like to think I throw dreams and tales into the imagination. By holding an event and drawing regulars as well as new faces to The Clay Pot, I’m supporting the “local economy”. I’m supporting Sara and Peggy and the kitchen workers and the farmers and everyone else. I’m helping Florence be a little more than “that town you pass through on the way to Myrtle Beach”.
So, if you’re going to be in or around Florence come February 28, come to The Clay Pot. Come have an excellent cup of coffee (or tea), look at beautiful art, meet Peggy and Sara, and maybe hear a story that will make you forget where you are for a little while.