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Editor of the Reformer,

I have known Pierre and Ellen for as long as they have owned the Mocha Joe's. I write this not to highlight what great friends they are, but to offer support for their café and their business contributions to our community and beyond.

I don’t personally know any of the people currently picketing the café and do not take issue with them, as a matter of fact, I agree in principle with their concerns. My issue is that their demands are directed primarily at a small locally owned business and the owners, who built that business over the past 30 years. Pierre and Ellen have put in their time. How many of those protesting against them now were there when they started the café, both of them working 15 hour days to get the business going, assuming the debt with no salary to pay it back? How many of them were there when they invested in a space to roast their own beans and offer free-trade coffee before it became a trend? How many of them were there when they helped organize coffee bean farmers in Cameroon, who had been taken advantage of by coffee corporations paying them pennies for their harvests?

The café and roasting shop have employed literally hundreds of local people over the years; high school students getting their first job, newcomers to town, NECCA students looking for a job with flexible hours. I understand the need for a working wage, but demanding a salary far above the National average is unsustainable for a business this size (as I understand it the existing wage at Mocha Joes is at least $15/hr).

The picketers should direct their frustration at our elected officials who can affect change for all workers. They should be channeling their energies in Montpelier and Washington and working with their employers to find answers to the growing inequities between large corporations and small businesses. It's hard enough to be an independently owned business, squeezed by higher costs and competition from corporate entities, without having to be challenged by the people you employ.

Mocha Joe's has provided a welcome respite to people who want a reasonably priced latte or chai, a homemade baked good, a game of chess, a chance to work on their laptops, read a book or simply chat with others. Cafés have come and gone in this town but Mocha Joes remains. At this point the café is likely more a labor of love than it is a “cash cow,” but I would be sad to see it go. We won’t find the same atmosphere, friendly baristas and locally roasted, fair-trade coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

I support the need for a working wage in this country, but asking only a local small local business owner to provide it will only ensure that faceless corporate entities are the only options left for a cup of coffee and a donut.

David R. Hiler

Brattleboro, Nov. 19


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