Board of Library Trustees: improving the cafe

A special committee of the Board of Library Trustees met again Wednesday, October 1, investigating ways to improve the cafe at the main library. Kookoo’s Nest is currently open between about 10 am and 3:30 pm Monday through Thursday. Cafe space was added during library renovations completed in 2003. It is located on the ground floor at the bottom of the main stairs, near the periodicals room and the teen center. The cafe serves sandwiches, soup, salad, muffins, scones, cookies, juices, soft drinks, espresso and other coffees.

At the meeting, cafe operators Ali Mohajerani and Elizabeth “Elie” Dunford said business has been slow this year, leading them to trim operating hours. They and the committee have considered closing the cafe. So far there has been no action on a pending renewal of the cafe’s operating agreement. Sara Slymon, the library director, said that the agreement is between the operators and the town. According to Michael Burstein, chair of the library trustees, the agreement remains active in the opinion of town counsel.

Reviewing the situation, library trustees have decided they could not help the cafe financially but expressed willingness to help in other ways. Committee member and library trustee Regina Healy said the basement location “doomed” the cafe, but Ms. Slymon contended locating it near the teen room had been an advantage. The operating agreement calls for the cafe to be open when the library is open. Mr. Mohajerani said that had not worked in practice, because business had been brisk for only a few hours a day.

According to Mr. Mohajerani, the cafe would benefit from better signage, letting library patrons know where it is located. He is annoyed when people bring their own food and take up table space. The cafe is not distinctly separated; instead its space spans a corridor connecting to ordinary library services. Library administration has maintained that they provide a public service and cannot restrict where patrons sit.

Kookoo’s runs a popular cafe on Station St. a few blocks away. Comparing the two operations in a memorandum, Ms. Dunford wrote, “the population we serve [at the library] is…different than our main cafe, and we can’t always serve the same things there without losing money.” That might become the kernel of a new approach: adapting to the library setting and patrons.

Mr. Mohajerani, Ms. Dunford and committee members agreed to try some changes. The operators will send proposals to Ms. Slymon within about a week. The committee will recommend to the trustees allowing the operators to experiment with changes. The committee and the cafe operators planned to review the situation in a few weeks, hoping for a turn-around.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

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