Experience Downtown Blog

Bringing a smile to downtown’s essential workforce, one cup of a coffee at a time

May 18, 2020 /   Colin Milwaukee Downtown

The Heroes Project salutes those who MKE a difference. To engage with our community virtually, we've documented the stories of downtown's frontline heroes who ultimately inspired our next mural project. The mural, titled "The Hero in You," by Milwaukee artist Ken Brown will transform MacArthur Square this June. For more details, visit www.milwaukeedowntown.com/art. Photography for Milwaukee Downtown by Andrew Feller. 

When Canary Coffee Bar opened in late August of 2019, the last thing Colin and Emily Whitcomb expected was a pandemic to slow their business. At the beginning of March, they were making record sales with a team of four to support them. Now, Colin works six days a week just with himself. The small talk with customers has been replaced with real moments of vulnerability. When Colin asks his customers how they are doing, they “confess that they want to cry.” Colin says, “In a way, it is a truly beautiful thing.” Like many businesses, Canary Coffee has had to learn and adapt to this new way of living. They launched online orders, text orders, and call-in orders, anything to try and get sales while protecting their guest’s safety, they say. 

When this time passes Colin will have memories of sitting alone in the café and wondering what will become of everyone, and he will remember the real conversations with people as they endured this time. And of course, he will also remember that he could finally play all the jazz music he wanted while no one was there. 

At home, Colin and Emily have an energetic four-year-old, and Emily works for Milwaukee County Housing Division. Life has become more stressful because every moment they have the doors of Canary Coffee open matters. There are days of struggle and there are days where the “new normal’ isn’t so bad. Colin has increasingly been thinking of the words of William Wordsworth, one poem that has resonated with him is “The World is Too Much with Us.” 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; ―

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses of that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 

When this time passes, Colin will be back in the Coffee Bar with the rest of his team serving up lattes and cortados to their regular customers and newcomers. The Canary experience will always be one-of-a-kind, with a caring face to get you the perfect cup of coffee.

About the Author: Claire Neville is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Special Project Intern with Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, advancing downtown's strategic priorities in the realm of economic development and public space management.

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