Cup emptied by the pandemic, Saints Rest will close for at least a year

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Saints Rest will likely stay empty through 2021. By Andrew Tucker.

Alanis Gonzalez

This past holiday weekend marked the last few hours Grinnell’s beloved coffee shop Saints Rest will be open for business for the foreseeable future.

The coffee shop, which reopened its doors in June after closing at the start of the pandemic in March, has tried to adapt to the new business landscape by courting more take-home customers. But despite the shift, according to owner Sam Cox, Saints Rest is still losing too much money to justify staying open, and she estimates the business will not reopen during 2021.

Cox said that the decision to close was not something she took lightly, and that she wanted to keep the coffee shop open for the community during this hard time. “It’s always been such a part of the community,” said Cox, “It’s always been such a part of my life, like a driving force, a place for so many people to come.”

In an effort to make sure that Saints Rest won’t have to close permanently, Cox said she thinks that shutting down now will help ensure the coffee shop survives the pandemic and can soon return to its former warm and vibrant existence.

In March, after the initial chaos of the pandemic and the wave of shutdowns that followed, Cox sought out financial assistance in any way she could. She applied for grants, which included the Iowa Small Business Grant and two grants from Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored by the College and the Grinnell Mutual Insurance company, but she hesitated to take out loans.

“I honestly did not want to take out a loan, I did not want to indebt myself no matter what that percentage rate looks like,” said Cox. She stressed the amount of hard work behind her applications for financial assistance, saying, “I worked on it for weeks and months before I saw any relief.”

“It’s always been such a part of the community. It’s always been such a part of my life, like a driving force, a place for so many people to come. – Sam Cox, owner of Saint’s Rest

Closing the store itself has come with its own challenges. “What that looks like is me having a conversation with my landlord and asking him what kind of break he can give me, in order for me to try to maintain that space, because I really don’t want to give it up,” said Cox.

Cox has also had to contact the companies that own her water and Pepsi machines, as well as the companies responsible for the rest of the equipment at Saints Rest, to see if they can help to properly store it all, and ensure everything maintains functionality until the shop opens again.

“It’s a lot of ins and outs,” she said.

Luckily, Cox’s other business, the drive through coffee shop Lucky Cat, has maintained steady customer support. Cox opened the drive-through endeavor in Fall 2019, just prior to the pandemic. When Lucky Cat first launched, Cox said she wasn’t sure whether the business would be lucrative. The pandemic, however, greatly changed circumstances. Since its start, Lucky Cat has seen a rise in business.

“The pandemic has put Lucky Cat on the map,” said Cox.

One possible reason that Lucky Cat has done so well is that it doesn’t just sell coffee. Customers can also order daiquiris, margaritas, freezers, and other fruit themed alcoholic beverages on designated days during happy hours.

Still, Cox described her choice to close Saints Rest as “bittersweet,” acknowledging her nostalgia for the hustle and bustle. But until a significant influx of students can safely live on campus, staying open does not seem plausible.

Although Cox said she believes Saints Rest is the first business to close due to the pandemic, she added that she was not alone and that other owners of local businesses are struggling as well. “We have to work twice as hard in order to make the same amount of money,” she said.

Despite the sadness surrounding the event, Cox remains hopeful. “I think someday we will be what we once were.”