Farmington Hills library café to close for repurposing amidst public outcry

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published August 2, 2017

 Chapters Café is set to close this fall and is slated to be repurposed into a study room or a meeting room.

Chapters Café is set to close this fall and is slated to be repurposed into a study room or a meeting room.

Photo by Donna Agusti

FARMINGTON HILLS — The multicolored neon lights advertising cappuccinos and espressos to Farmington Community Library Main Branch guests will stop glowing pretty soon for good.

The Chapters Café, which has been open at the library for seven years, is located in one of many areas that library officials are looking to renovate and repurpose, primarily as meeting or study space. Plans for updating the 15-year-old facility have been discussed for the past few years. Other plans include creating a teen area — in the Quiet Study Room, located in the browsing area —  adding new paint and new carpet, and reconfiguring the computer lab into group study rooms. 

“The building we have in here has limited space, quite frankly, as far as meeting rooms, places to congregate,” Farmington Community Library Board of Trustees President Clark Doughty said during a July 27 informational meeting at the library. “We’ve had a lot of discussion within the board that has been going on for months. … We want to develop meeting rooms.”

Doughty said that the café has not been turning a profit, and the specifics of repurposing the café are not clear yet. But change has been in the works for a while. 

The café’s lease expired in November, and its owners, Southfield couple Jim and Christine Bezy, have since paid on a month-to-month basis. 

The couple chose to open the café as a fresh start and to supplement their income.

A June 30 letter that Library Director Elyse Streit wrote to the Bezys states that the library will give them a Sept. 30 move date — the original date was Aug. 31. Rent was also waived from June to September.

Streit said in the letter that the library felt that the space was underutilized and could be put to a different use to benefit more patrons.

She added in the letter that she walked around the library with an interior designer recently because it is time to update the library’s interior spaces to “meet the changing needs of our users.”

“Please understand: This was not an easy decision to make, but the Board of Trustees and I feel that, going forward, this will be in the best interests of our patrons,” Streit said in the original letter dated in June.

According to about 500 patrons who signed a petition started by the Bezys to keep the café, they are in favor of the establishment that features baked goods, deli-style sandwiches, chips, sweet treats and more.

“Their voice doesn’t count, it seems,” Jim Bezy said about the petitions during the meeting.

The meeting was originally scheduled for July 13 as a library board meeting, but it was delayed due to a power outage. A handful of patrons spoke at the informational meeting July 27, including Farmington Hills resident Carolyn Edwards, an academic motivational college coach for young people.

She said she travels to many libraries and considers the Main Library Branch to be her home away from home. She said a teen room would not meet the needs of teens today and that a renovated Detroit Public Library teen room is barely used. She said that at the Main Library Branch, everyone, especially college students, seems to have a cup of coffee from the café while studying.

“I would just say asking yourself what is the root cause of potentially closing, and are we fixing the real problem?” 

Farmington Hills resident Amy Wong said that as a recent law school graduate, she was one of the many students studying at the library and benefited from the caffeine and “genuine” company of the Bezys, who encouraged her often. 

“I urge you to reconsider your decision,” she said.

Jim Bezy spoke during the meeting and read over a July 17 response letter to Streit asking for the board to appeal its decision.

“When Elyse surprised us with the shocking letter on June 29 telling us the library needs the space and that we have 60 days to leave our business, a place we put our heart soul and mind to serve the patrons in this library, we were heartbroken,” Jim Bezy said.

He said patrons want the café to remain. 

“Please listen to their voices. This is their library, and we are here to serve,” he read from the response letter.

Christine Bezy said she and her husband were able to purchase the business with money Christine’s mother gave them — her life’s savings of $55,000 after her passing — the exact amount needed to set up the café. 

Jim Bezy said that he and his wife own the Chapters Café LLC  name and business, and they lease the space from the library. 

“It is the same as leasing space in a food court in a major mall,” he said in an email.

Christine Bezy said her mother was born almost 100 years ago in China, and the café is dedicated in her mother’s memory.

“I feel that losing the café is not so much as losing my job. …  I feel (it is) about draining her hard-earned money; I feel like I failed her,” Christine Bezy said. 

She added that it is hard to sell used equipment because restaurants don’t want it. 

“From the moment I came here, I expected to be permanent,” she said, referring to the board and library staff as family.

Other food options were discussed, such as the vending machines; one attendee told board trustees to be prepared for vending machine-related issues.

Trustee Gerald Bosler said that some libraries that formerly had cafés are making money on vending machines.

“Because they contract out the machine and they get a percentage of the proceeds from that and they make a lot of money on it,” Bosler said, adding that academic institutions do the same. “That is a trend — people are looking for convenience and ease and access.”

He added that the bottom line is that the library had different groups come in several years ago saying that there is a need for conference rooms.

“And we need all sizes,” he said, adding that the café space could be configured into up to three study/meeting rooms.

Doughty said that the library doesn’t have money to build additional space. 

“The cost would be astronomical,” he said, adding that it doesn’t make sense to not use space already available. 

“We will maintain friends (with patrons) whether we have the café or not,” Christine Bezy said. 

“We’re not going down without a fight,” Jim Bezy said.

The Chapters Café is currently open 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Sundays.

For more information on the café, call (248) 553-6890.

For more information on the library, go to www.farmlib.org.