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Coffee Shop Tries To Hang On

But always, there were, and still are, fellow entrepreneurs, dropping in and keeping tabs, rooting for each other. One of Heather's new favorites was a chef across the street, just a year into his own place.

"His work is beautiful, his plate presentation is beautiful, and he put his whole life into it," she recalls. "I could see just two people in his restaurant, then I could see it half filled, then whole place filled up. And he'd just hired more waitresses and then, boom, St. Patrick's Day. "And it was over ..."

----This month, Heather emailed the Scrabble club, 12 to 15 strong during peak season, to stay away until the plague passes. She and Tracy are both social distancing from their parents.

Heather tries counting aloud the number of establishments in the Village that have gone dark. "All the bars, for sure ..." She stops at 10. Or is it 11?

Tracy and Heather had hoped to boost their payroll up to eight or nine people. Two student employees had just moved on. Two pending new hires were put on hold. They hold down the fort today with two full-timers and a part-timer.

Tracy tries to rally her professional peers with Facebook plugs for local businesses. She was thrown by the blowback she got after promoting a recent outing to an ice cream shop on Siesta Key.

"It was like, 'How dare you flaunt the fact that you're going out there in groups and putting people at risk?' Well, I wasn't with a group of strangers, I was with my family, and I'm supporting a local business that I know is struggling now."

It was more of the same when her hairdresser said tomorrow was going to be her last day. Tracy booked her daughter for an appointment. She posted images of the hair stylist's handiwork. What happened next leaves her voice thin and fragile.

"So my daughter got a haircut, and I ... got quite criticized for that." She pauses. "And as I explained, I said the real reason I went was to give her a big tip because I knew ..." She snatches a napkin. "I wished her good luck and ... I don't know, I just ..." She dabs away a sniffle. "People accuse me of potentially killing people because of getting a haircut. Things like that."

Tracy apologizes. "My husband told me to stop posting things like that. But I don't want to. I want to keep telling people that businesses are open.

Because we haven't been told to close. And if we're told to close, well, that's a different story. But people are hurting. And they need help."

----Heather was furious over the censure. She challenges any chain supermarket to meet the sterilization standards enforced at The Clever Cup.

She emptied her frustrations into her own social media account.

She asked followers and trolls alike to imagine building up a small business from scratch, forsaking days off and vacations "because it's your baby, not just because it's your livelihood." Imagine the sleepless nights, the uncertainty, "being vilified for trying to save all you and your employees have," being "told by celebrities and people who are still collecting paychecks that you are selfish and stupid."

"You want us to stay home? Then support us," Heather concluded. "There are tons of ways you can do that from your couch. Buy a gift card, merchandise, takeout. And most of all remember, we are human beings just like you and we are just trying to survive so please be kind."

That's what happened. Patrons, some from out of state, responded with a show of generosity, buying gift cards, T-shirts, mugs and whatever time those purchases might afford. Among the most generous were members of the Scrabble club. Tracy and Heather get emotional talking about it.

Just how far that bump will take them is another matter. But regulars like Sarasota literary editor Liz Coursen, who passes three Starbucks to reach the Cup, say they'll keep coming as long as it stays open.

"People know each other here. This is a real community," she says. "You can sit and talk to friends or you can get work done. It blows the doors off other coffee shops."

The parking lot in the Village would normally be jammed at lunchtime. Heather parks her car outside the front door to alert motorists that someone's home. Tracy is grateful someone noticed.

As her visitor heads out, she asks, "Can I get you a cookie or something?" ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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