In 2000, Rich and Sheri Braaksma moved to the Santa Monica area to start a church.
“We got close by starting a coffeehouse,” says Mr. Braaksma. “Not a congregation, but definitely a place to congregate!”
On June 1, 2003, the couple opened The Talking Stick, a popular coffee and social destination on Ocean Park Boulevard. On June 1, 2007, the shop will shut its doors, the result of an eviction of three spaces, including offices at 1628 and 1628 1/2 Ocean Park, set to make way for a new coffeehouse/boutique, Thyme Café and Market.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, just days after the Braaksmas announced the shop’s impending closure, The Talking Stick was filled to the brim with customers: colleagues going over business plans on laptop computers; students cramming while curled up against pillow-laden benches and writers and artists scribbling away in notebooks. The scene was indicative of a vibe the Braaksmas have successfully cultivated over a few short years.
“From the beginning we wanted The Talking Stick to be more than a bottom line- concerned business but [rather] a place of community, dialogue and relationship,” says Mr. Braaksma. “The name ’The Talking Stick’ comes from the Native American idea of a talking stick where everybody gets to speak their piece, have their say and bring their own thing to the table. We have lived this out by having different visual artists hanging their work, musicians sharing their unique sounds and voices and just by being an open door and welcoming spot for anyone.”
With rotating art installations and a lounge area that can be converted into a play space, The Talking Stick maintains an environment that is both comfortable and “kid friendly” during the day, while transforming into a performance hub in the evening. Events occur on a near-nightly basis and range from Stitch n’ Bitch sessions to Open Mic nights to the “beats, poetry and art” of Mosaic, Java with Javelyn indie nights, guitar performances from Vinnie Caggiano and beyond.
When the Braaksmas learned of the owner’s plans for the storefronts, they were “surprised but not shocked.” On January 29, 2007, plans were submitted by Maire O’Keefe to Santa Monica’s Architectural Review Board to convert 1630 Ocean Park Boulevard and two adjacent storefronts into a single unit.
“When we started out we were pretty green in terms of running a business and we didn’t secure any kind of long-term lease,” Mr. Braaksma says. “Last summer the building was purchased but despite a small rent increase things carried on as usual. With no lease [though], we had no guarantee.”
Mr. Braaksma credits much of the coffeehouse’s success to “much love and support” combined with fair rent, loyal customers and a caring and reliable staff.
Employee and college student Ryan Barr has been working at The Talking Stick off and on since 2004, his junior year at Santa Monica High School. He notes that while he is saddened by the upcoming closure of The Talking Stick, he finds comfort in the fact that “it’s not a Starbucks or another chain coming in here.” Barr remains hopeful that the Braaksmas will be able to relocate somewhere in the Santa Monica or Venice area.
Although the Braaksmas are seeking a new space, the task at hand is not easy. “It’s difficult to find a restaurant-zoned location that is both nearby, suitable and reasonable in price, so we’re not sure. We’re trying to peek in as many doors as we can in order to find which one to march into.”
All things considered, though, the Braaksmas are happy with what they have accomplished with The Talking Stick.
“They say most small businesses, especially in the food industry, don’t make it past the first year,” Mr. Braaksma says. “We had some tough times but we have profoundly felt the love and support of the community that has kept us going. Our great privilege is that we have been able to be a part of the fabric of our community, and it is the community that has allowed us to experience any success that we have had.”