Waking up before sunrise six days out of the week, Associate Professor of English Cyn Fitch would start her day at 4 a.m. with a daily trip to the HyVee in Galesburg. She’d make a list each morning and restrict herself from getting off track and spending too much time in the supermarket. Fitch would then head over to her coffee shop, Crackpots Espresso, and prepare to open at 7 a.m.
She would spend the rest of the day maintaining the shop, handling customers and packaging coffee. The shop opened its doors in late 2004.
According to Fitch, The Downtown Salon in Galesburg had been running for about 30 years and was set to close, leaving an empty space waiting to be rented out. As a lover of coffee and of the coffee shop atmosphere, Fitch decided to take the opportunity to make it a larger part of her life. She and her husband at the time rented the space and spent 14 months renovating it, converting it from a beauty salon into a Mardi Gras inspired coffee shop called Crackpots. She noted that about three total tons of debris from the beauty salon had been removed at the end of the renovation process.
“We had to take everything out that had been beauty shop related,” Fitch said. “We busted plaster off of the walls that you could smell hair chemicals in. It was really kind of gnarly.”
After doing research on what types of colors were most likely to stimulate conversation as well as comfort for the shop, Fitch decided on a color scheme of deep blue, golden-yellow and burgundy. She mentioned that, as of today, the ceiling she had spent so much time on is still the deep blue she painted it. Along with the color scheme, Fitch lined the walls with mannequin heads adorned in eccentric hats.
“Sometimes, I think, when you walk into a coffee shop it feels artsy or intellectual — ours was quirky,” Fitch said. “We had a 50-foot dragon kite that was suspended from the ceiling that kind of snaked through, and his head pointed down at the cash register. So anyone who was standing at the cash register had this really beautiful authentic Chinese kite staring at them.”
During the months that it was open, Crackpots was admired for serving coffee made from beans that Fitch and the employees roasted themselves. She mentioned that there used to be a large, three group roaster where Mary Christianson, current owner of The Beanhive, now has a kitchen. Fitch used to hold open mics where people came and read their poetry, other written work or performed alongside acoustic guitars.
Six to eight months after opening Crackpots, Fitch realized that the work involved in running the shop along with attending school and raising kids was too much to continue. She found that, while she succeeded in creating the coffee shop atmosphere for her customers, she wasn’t able to enjoy it herself. Despite the fact that she hired trusted employees and could let them run the shop on their own occasionally, she spent most weeks working every day except for Sunday.
“I wasn’t very far in when I realized that it was a pace that I couldn’t keep up with, that I was overwhelmed by trying to do too much,” Fitch said. “ I realized pretty quickly that I had bit off more than I wanted to chew.”
The stress Fitch experienced during her ownership left her with no bitter feelings toward the concept of coffee shops. Still a lover of coffee and coffee shops, Fitch feels that she can better appreciate it when she’s not the one creating it. She’s glad that the space has since remained a coffee shop, and that her hard work had not been in vain.
“I guess what I’m most proud of is that we worked really hard to make it a great coffee shop space, and even now, 12 years later, it’s still a coffee shop even if it has passed through several owners,” she said. “It makes me happy that it’s still there.”
Fitch mentioned that, to her, the most valuable thing to come from her work as a coffee shop owner was reconnecting to Knox. Having several Knox professors as customers allowed her to make connections and eventually come back to teach in 2006.
“I’ve always thought that Crackpots was a real test for me. It was a lot of hard work, but I always thought that the best thing that came out of it was that it brought me back to Knox,” she said.