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Local coffee shops remain open during boil water advisory while trusted chains close their doors

Bigger is not always better.

The age-old adage was proven wrong on Jan. 28, when the City of Winnipeg announced a precautionary boil water advisory. The city found traces of coliform bacteria (E.coli) in water samples while performing routine testing. Many chain business - ahem, Starbucks - promptly closed their doors while smaller businesses devised a strategy.

“Closing was definitely an option,” Vanessa Stachiw says.

Co-owner of Osborne Village darling, Little Sister Coffee Maker, Stachiw made a point to do her research after the warning was issued. From scouring the internet for E. coli facts to contacting the health inspector, Stachiw made sure she was well-informed about what the warning meant to consumers.

“After doing the required testing to make sure all of our equipment exceeded the temperature requirements, it was clear that we could stay open without hesitation.”

Located at one of the busiest intersections in the city and with the Starbucks across the street closed, Little Sister was happy to be able to continue to provide service for caffeine addicts in need.

With only one message on Twitter doubting their stance to continue to serve customers, Stachiw notes how thankful people were.

“Customers were mentioning what great public service it was which we thought was sweet,” Stachiw says. “It was nice to be able to help our regulars carry out their daily routines. That’s really important for us.”

Seamus Hamilton-Pattison, a rhetoric and communications student at the University of Winnipeg, was confused to find some of the bigger businesses closing.

“It seems to me that if you have a bigger operation then logically you should be able to stay open,” Hamilton-Pattison states. “With more staff on-hand you’d think they’d be able to keep the thing running. It seemed really backwards to me because you’d think it would be the other way around.”

The Uniter reached out to Starbucks Canada for comment but didn’t receive a response by press time.

As someone who always strives to support the local guy, with the odd coffee from a chain when times are desperate, Hamilton-Pattison understands that smaller shops will go the extra mile for the customer even if it might be a little more tedious and a little more time-consuming. He also appreciates the personal and community connections smaller businesses try to foster.

“You can shoot the breeze with the barista while your drink is being made or you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere,” Hamilton-Pattison says. “You’re not confronted with this awkward consumer culture where your drink gets punched in and then you stand there tapping your toes and waiting.”

Stachiw agrees that the personal connections to the business and to the product is as important as any other aspect of running a business, from consistent product, to friendly faces and timely production.

“The boil water advisory was a really good indicator or what kind of customers frequent Little Sister and I’m sure other coffee shops feel the same,” Stachiw says. “We have relationships with our regular customers. They trust that if we are open we will serve them delicious coffee and keep them safe - which we do daily. It was great to be able to continue to do that through a minor dilemma.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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