Friends of Hedberg Public Library brew up their own success story

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
— The Friends of Hedberg Public Library recently celebrated a milestone: Members paid off the $50,000 it borrowed for its coffee shop in the building’s lower floor.

Volunteers staff the shop 68 hours a week.

Other communities now come to see what Janesville has done, said Bryan McCormick, library director.

The building project approved by the city council in late 2004 sparked controversy.

Several council members and community members questioned the capital cost to provide the food service and wondered if the library shouldn’t just stick to loaning books.

A private contractor operated a freestanding coffee cart from 1997 to 2003. The library made about $7,250 a year in revenue, but the health department ruled the cart had to be connected to sewer and water. That would have about $7,000.

Other options to replace the cart ranged from renovating a downstairs area at a cost of $75,000 to installing vending machines at a cost of about $1,000.

After much discussion, the council approved the $75,000 option. The friends donated $10,000, the library tapped $15,000 from its reserve account, and the council borrowed $50,000.

The group made its first payment in July 2006.

The Ground Floor serves coffee, other beverages and prepackaged drinks and snacks. It also sells gift items, such a greeting cards made by local artists, used books, CDs and books on tape. It includes a seating area and Wi-Fi. The remodeling included a public meeting room.

Burdette Richter, administrator of the friends group and The Ground Floor manager, works 24 hours a week, and two other paid employees help on weekends. The friends pay all three salaries.

Richter draws from a bank of about 45 volunteers to run the shop. He sometimes steps in if someone can’t make a shift, but volunteers provide almost all the labor. Richter said he finds that amazing.

The coffee shop has grossed as much as $7,800 a month, but now grosses about $4,800, a drop Richter attributed to the economy.

With the loan paid off—including another $6,000 in interest—Richter said the friends should be able to donate $8,000 to $10,000 a year from coffee shop sales. The group had been donating about $1,000 from coffee shop profits.

Initial estimates were that the project could result in about $9,000 revenue from food service and $2,000 from gift items and used books.

The friends also have other fundraisers, such as a tulip bulb sale.

McCormick, who typically buys two to three cups of coffee a day, described the area as a welcoming entrance to the library.

A group from Madison recently visited Janesville to view its facility, he said.

“The volunteers deserve so much credit,” McCormick said. “They do such a great job.”

The friends paid off their loan last month.

“We had a little ceremony at the friends board meeting,” Richter said.

Last updated: 8:08 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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