As I walked up Swanston Street the other day, I passed a Starbucks. Groups of Asian tourists and Australian teenagers clutched their icy coffee drinks in the trademark white and green takeaway cup on the sunny terrace, and I tried to remember the last time I had a Starbucks. I certainly haven’t had one in Australia, despite somehow turning into one of those people who insists that my day hasn’t started until I’ve had my coffee.
Walking out of an exhibit at RMIT Gallery further up Swanston Street, I noticed a petition taped on a set of forest-green doors. As I leaned down to take a closer look and perhaps a photo, a sprightly man appeared over my shoulder and asked if I wanted to come in and take some photos–it wouldn’t be there much longer. The journalism student in me couldn’t resist the potential story, so I went in for the grand tour of Caffeine @ Re-Vault and a coffee.
And so I was introduced to the Save Caffeine at RMIT movement. The university is shutting down the basement cafe and bar after 15 years of business because it doesn’t fit in with its new “clean lines” retail strategy. The haven for the RMIT community is full of nooks and crannies, fueled by good coffee and stiff drinks.
“It’s a place for students to gather without the pressure to consume,” said Tony Malatesta, the ultimate all-rounder at Caffeine, as he brewed me a delicious piccolo. You can tell he’s passionate about the place that he transformed from a dark and dreary storage space to a hang-out, study spot and after-class destination. He walks me through the maze of seating, pointing out a sculpture made by a former bartender and the barstool created out of a truck spring.
Caffeine is no Starbucks: it’s a locally-owned business that’s been designed with love, not by a corporate entity. And it’s a shame that it’s being shut down. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community–and even more so when they serve our universities. Young minds need surroundings that inspire and support them, to see examples of success in differentiation.
So, today, I encourage you to support a small business. Buy a book from a bookstore, not Amazon. Purchase your produce at a farmers market, not the grocery store. Visit your neighborhood butcher, florist, paper goods store. Perhaps, most importantly, sip your coffee at a local cafe instead of Starbucks. And think of how boring your community, and the world, would be if a “clean lines” retail strategy was adopted by all.
To support Caffeine @ Re-Vault, join the Facebook group: Save Caffeine at RMIT.