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Saints Rest owner Sam Cox talks 2019 candidate visits

Sam Cox, who took over running Saints Rest eight years ago, has seen two election cycles bring major candidates to the coffee shop. Photo by Isabel Torrence.

In this busy time leading up to the Iowa Caucus, Saints Rest, Grinnell’s local coffee shop, has hosted a number of different presidential candidates. 

So far, the shop, located on Broad Street in downtown Grinnell, has held events for by Cory Booker, John Hickenlooper, Tulsi Gabbard (on two occasions) and Marianne Williamson. Sam Cox, the owner, noted that Steve Bullock would be visiting on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Cox, who became the owner of Saints Rest eight years ago, has been hosting candidates since the last presidential election cycle. Fewer midterm-election candidates tend to make the kind of appearances that happen in presidential election years, so this cycle is only the second time the café has had so many events.

When an event is going to be particularly large (sometimes with camera crews and stage lighting) Cox tends to schedule it for after Saints Rest is closed. One recent larger event had close to a hundred attendees. However, smaller events may also happen during regular business hours, with the smallest recent event having around 20 attendees. “They call me and we line up whether we’re going to do it during business hours or whether it will be an after-hours event, the bigger they are the more likely after-hours.” said Cox. She noted that the scale of events seems to be increasing over time: she said, “In the beginning it was very casual and small, but they are getting to be very large.”

At these events, attendees get the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates in person. Cox said that a typical amount a candidate might answer would be ten.

In general, a candidate will contact Cox about two to three weeks in advance of an appearance at Saints Rest, though there is some variation. One candidate only gave her about around five days to prepare. “I would love to have a three- to four-week notice, but it varies,” she said.

Cox does not charge the candidates anything for their appearances. 

She said, “I really just want to be supportive to the candidates … just getting their message out there, and allowing people to hear them and speak to them, and see them up close and personal. It’s really not about money to me at all.”

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