If you’ve ever longed for a space that combines coffee, comics, and activism, you’re in luck: these are the super powers of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Comic Girl Coffee. Founded and run collectively by Lara Americo, Ashley Jarrett, Kayla Dance, and Allie Chudoba, the space is dedicated to being by and for coffee lovers of all stripes—especially those who feel marginalized in traditional cafe spaces. In terms of equity, Comic Girl shoots for the stars; not only is it collectively owned, it’s also queer/POC-centered, vegan, and accessible to people of all incomes.
Like so many organizations that exist to center marginalized people in coffee, the impetus for Comic Girl came from the lack of safe spaces for queer and trans people, especially those of color, in the Charlotte area. When the founders noticed that space missing from their lives, they decided to create it themselves. The inspiration came from a bookstore called Firestorm Collective in Asheville, North Carolina. “Firestorm Collective was a dream,” says Americo. “Having a queer safe space in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains was like an oasis in a desert. I knew that there had to be a space like this where I lived. Or else, what’s the point of living there?”
I ask Americo about the unique challenges of running Comic Girl as a cooperative. “Every decision has to be made collectively and all profits are shared,” she says. “Right now, that means we only have the capacity to open on the weekend. We are hoping for more members or for one of us to be able to work full-time so that the store can be open regularly.” The biggest challenge the Comic Girl crew has experienced is finding new co-op members. “We don’t use bank loans and we have no one to bankroll the shop. We are all marginalized people in some way trying to create a space for ourselves. Instead of pouring money into the shop, we have to use free labor until the shop is sustainable. Not everyone is willing or able to work for free in the hopes of future payoff unless they really believe in the concept.”
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