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Indianapolis coffee shop Perk Up stays open by closing doors, opening windows instead

'We believe we are doing what we can do and we should do.'
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Posted at 6:15 AM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 12:31:24-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Perk Up had its best sales day of 2020 the day before Easter Sunday.

Only a few weeks into the pandemic, folks were already eager to get out of the house.

Unlike many restaurants and bars around them, the tiny Broad Ripple coffee shop is one of the few businesses that has been able to continue operations smoothly throughout the nearly two-year-long pandemic.

"We never closed during the pandemic," Jeanette Footman, co-owner of Perk Up, told WRTV. "We never had a day we closed because we had that window."

When the previous owner of Perk Up, located at 6536 Cornell Avenue, hired contractors to create a new entrance into the coffeehouse in the early 2000s, they advised her to wall up the old one. But, according to Footman, she said no, and insisted on putting a window in its place.

"We were lucky we had this window," Footman said. She's co-owned Perk Up since 2009 with her business partner Alice Matsuo. "That was our luck. We were able to open up that window and basically stay open."

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Daniel Boston, a barista, works at Perk Up's walk-up window on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021.

While other businesses have gone back and forth with COVID-19 safety protocols, Perk Up has maintained the closure of its indoor seating area for nearly two years now.

Whether cases were low or high, the only people to see the inside of the coffeehouse during the pandemic have been Footman, Matsuo, and their three employees.

"When this pandemic started, I was in Japan," Matsuo explained to WRTV. "The way the Japanese government approached the pandemic and the American government did was totally different. Which it shocked me when I came back."

Matsuo shared how surprised she was to see how few people wore proper medical masks and weren't respectful of social distancing guidelines when she returned to the United States in July 2020.

Western countries continue to stigmatize mask-wearing, unlike Asian countries where Matsuo says even during flu season, people wear masks.

"When I came back here, I was panicking because I saw that not many people were compliant with [state and county] orders," Matsuo said.

Matsuo and Footman explained how they consistently saw businesses teetering between fully opening and temporary closure due to someone testing positive for the virus. If any of their team members were exposed to COVID-19, the owners were not sure the business could withstand a two-week closure.

"People always talk about small businesses, [but] we are a 'tiny' business," Footman explained.

"So we made sure, 'OK, the walk-up window will always be open, but the dining area, we will keep it closed,'" Matsuo said.

Footman says it's about keeping their tiny business open and their staff safe. As a five-member crew, jeopardizing the health of themselves or their employees meant endangering the company.

"We believe we are doing what we can do and we should do," Matsuo said.

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Signage outside of the Perk Up coffee shop in Broad Ripple on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
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Summer 2021 felt as if the world had gone back to pre-pandemic normalcy. It was the only time Matsuo and Footman considered re-opening their seating area during the pandemic.

The owners said the discrepancies between state and county guidelines for re-opening confused them during a time they were really seeking finite direction. After figuring out how much space should be between tables, where dividers should be in the coffeehouse, and who would be required to sanitize tables, they realized it would not be financially viable to execute all the safety guidelines.

"If we put in place all the requirements, we will end up with three tables inside the shop, which wouldn't make any sense," Matsuo said, laughing.

As of late, Matsuo and Footman feel even more secure about keeping their dining area closed with the omicron variant sweeping the globe and the rising costs of just about everything they need to keep the shop running.

"It is crazy the amount of disposables that we use," Matsuo started. "We wanted to give our contribution to the environment in terms of reducing the impact. So, we tried to switch whatever we could into more green, cold drink cup, hot drink cup, or containers to-go for food."

According to Matsuo, because plastic disposable container prices rose at least 72% during the pandemic, more and more businesses started to buy eco-friendly disposables, effectively raising the price. She says eco-friendly products were already double the cost of plasticware beforehand; the surge in demand made the prices grow exponentially in 2021.

They also have been facing rising shipping costs and an arabica coffee bean shortage.

The last thing they needed was a two-week closure, losing revenue.

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Perk Up's Deck on Cornell Avenue, near the Monon Trail, in Broad Ripple.

As variants like delta and the most-recent omicron strain have caused cases to surge and the virus to spread even faster, local business owners are again feeling the persistent threat of closure.

Indianapolis businesses like King Dough and Goose The Market just re-opened their indoor seating after a few weeks of only offering patrons pick up or delivery. Other places such as Nicole-Taylor's Pasta Market & Backroom Eatery and Tea's Me are once again requiring patrons to wear a mask.

Although they miss in-house interactions with their guests like during Sunday afternoon's Kaffeeklatsch, Matsuo and Footman feel consistency is critical. They rest assured their health and safety are better protected if Perk Up's dining area is closed until the pandemic is declared over.

"We will probably wait for the WHO (World Health Organization) to tell, 'OK, the pandemic is over.' Then we will feel safer to welcome our customers to the dining space," Matsuo said.

The owners of Perk Up say the community, their customers, and their landlord have helped them through this time with their support and understanding.

"Because nothing has changed for us in a way; we are still a tiny business, you know, and it's kind of like ... putting ourselves out there every day," Footman explained of their decision. "That's why we are so grateful to our customers that have supported us and still support us. We got new customers; we love that we got more diverse customers now. And, we're thankful for our team. We're thankful for our landlord."

There has only been one instance of an employee at Perk Up contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic thus far, and it was during the coffee shop's annual week-off during the holiday time at the end of 2021. It delayed the shop's re-opening date by just two days.

Perk Up is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at shakkira.harris@wrtv.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.

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