Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is it a good idea to crowdfund local businesses?

I was perusing Facebook the other day and came across something that struck me as odd. It was a "Go Fund Me" page dedicated to the locally-owned coffee shop in Princeton, Local Mo'Joe. Get it? The name is a pun.

GoFundMe is a crowd-funding site, similar to Kickstarter. If you want to raise money for an event or something, you create a page and solicit donations. The first time I was ever aware of this was in 2012 when an athlete I follow financed a documentary through Kickstarter. More famously, the "Veronica Mars" movie was made because of fans donating.

I toyed around with the idea of using Kickstarter to help fund the first issue of the magazine I was trying to get off the ground way back when. You can scour my blog archives for updates on how that started, gained momentum, then ultimately failed. It didn't get to the point of asking for financing yet, but I got to the point of assembling a small staff, planning out the first two issues, having preliminary contract discussions with a printing company, and so forth. I still receive a weekly newsletter from Kickstarter for creating an account.

Local Mo' Joe is a coffee shop in Mercer Street in Princeton, WV. It opened sometime around the summer of 2015. The coffee shop is part of something called the "Princeton Renaissance Project," a revitalization effort for the area, specifically Mercer Street. That area has long been plagued with drugs and prostitutes and other unsavory characters. I spoke with Lori McKinney, one of the architects behind the Renaissance Project on episode 10 of my podcast back in the early part of 2014 when things were still in the early stages. We had loose plans to have another interview later that summer but it fell through. The podcast has been on a temporary hiatus for a while now.

Local Mo'Joe is a nice enough place. My first issue is the name. I think it's a ridiculous pun. Get it? Mo' Joe, More Coffee! And it's local. Local More Coffee. I can imagine the brainstorming session: "Let's make up a name that is cheesy and gets stuck in their head, but it needs to also make them think of Austin Powers."

I went several times when they first opened. Aside from the heavy, creaking door with the loud wind chime on it, it's a nice atmosphere inside. I took a few pictures of various times I was there. The first is the menu on a giant chalkboard. The second and third are of me in various states of being disheveled, with some of the ambiance of the place in the background. 

So, yeah, a nice little place. Lots of local artwork and a mix of big tables, small tables, single chairs. It's a place you can realistically go by yourself, you and a friend, or bring a group.

But, the important part: the quality of the products. Right when I moved was when More Joe started expanding their menu, so I haven't had any of the sandwiches. I saw several of their salads and they looked really good. I had a few pastries. How were they: [insert thumbs up emoji].

The chai tea latte? Meh. The smoothies... Oh Em Gee they are good. And they had something called "Monkey Nuts" that was banana and peanut butter and whatnot in it. It was good but I felt awkward asking for it.

The value? Ehhhhhh... Stuff there is a little pricey. I get that it's local and you want to pay a little bit more to enjoy those products. Is the fact that it's local really enough to get people to not buy coffee drinks from a Starbucks or McDonalds? 

The answer to that is "apparently not." On October 13, this GoFundMe page was created. Here's what they have to say on that page:

"The cost of starting a business seems to never end. And in trying to provide the customer with the highest quality of made-to-order foods and drinks, the price grows. We at Mo'Joe are facing additional costs in expanding the menu, creating new jobs, and paying the tax man."

They expand upon those costs in a later paragraph:

"Your donation would go toward securing local jobs, covering operational costs, expanding our ever-evolving menu, and paying to host live music performances."

What it sounds like to me is that the ownership of Local Mo'Joe is having issues covering those costs. Those costs include hiring people, paying the employees as well as the company's bills, food for the menu, and hiring live musicians.

Of all of those, only the live musicians are non-essential costs. To be a coffee shop, they need employees, ingredients, and a place to house those ingredients. That's what this GoFundMe is asking the community to help take care of.

Since October, they have secured $340 through five donations. They have set a super-unrealistic goal of $11,000. 

I feel like the $340 in donations from the community is $340 too much. A business should stay open by offering its services. If coffee and sandwiches can't keep Local Mo'Joe in business, then they need to sell something else or go out of business. It's ridiculous to ask for handouts from the community. 

Is this page going to solve their problems? Considering that it's been active for almost two months and has received only five donations, and also the fact that the largest donation comes from somebody who has the same last name as the lady who created the page, I'm going to say that this won't solve their money issues.

Will the Local Mo'Joe survive? Historically, looking at businesses on Mercer Street, no it won't. Would I like to see it survive? Yeah. Will I support this business? If I'm in town and want something to drink and a place to sit down, then yes I will. Will I go above and beyond and donate money to pay their bills? No. And nobody else should either.

If you want to donate $$$ to Local Mo'Joe, here is the link:


  1. How many successful businesses have you run, Chris? You're good at taking selfies and talking trash about someone else's business. How good are you at opening a new business in an economically depressed area?

    1. I tried to start a business and I failed. I mentioned that. I like this coffee shop, aside from the name, that wind chime on the door that makes too much noise when you open it, and I think the prices are a little too high. That's not talking trash.

      And I don't think it's right that they're asking for help from the community. That's also not talking trash. That's offering an opinion.

      I would also argue that I'm not even good at taking selfies. One of those looks decent, the other... not so much.