Apparently, the gourmet coffee business amounts to more than a hill of beans in Columbia County.
Business for several locally owned coffee houses and one national chain in the Martinez-Evans area appears to be percolating.
The area's tally of gourmet coffee shops, retailers that primarily sell high-end, imported and domestic roasted coffee and mixed coffee concoctions, increased by at least four locations since September.
In the past nine months, two Starbucks opened in the Mullins Crossing shopping center on Washington Road, Mocha Mahn opened on Columbia Road, Daily Grind opened in Evans, and the Footnotes Cafe, operated by Serendipity, opened inside the Columbia County Library.
Shawn O'Dell, a co-owner of Abbi's Coffee Mill on Furys Ferry Road, said a major corporate juggernaut is largely responsible for the growth of the gourmet coffee industry.
"You owe it all to the likes of Starbucks, because Starbucks has done such a good job promoting gourmet coffee throughout the country and the world," he said. "It's a fairly easy business to get into being that the country is not swamped with coffee shops."
But the number is growing.
In 2005, there were more than 21,000 retailers of gourmet coffee drinks and beans in the United States, either with seating or without, compared with about 12,600 retailers in 2000, according to the Web site of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a trade organization.
In that time, sales at coffee houses nationwide have increased from $7.7 billion per year to just more than $11 billion per year, according to the association.
Coffee houses are opening in the county, Serendipity owner and Footnotes operator George Kanaras said, because of growth.
"The economy is doing very well here and Columbia County is very progressive and exploding (with growth)," Kanaras said.
The increasing competition, he said, is not necessarily a bad thing.
"A lot of business owners worry about competition coming," Kanaras said. "But competition is also a good thing, kind of like when the tide comes in to a harbor, it lifts all the ships up."
O'Dell and Kanaras both said their establishments offer services distinctive to the market.
Abbi's roasts its own beans at least five days a week and supplies many coffee houses in the Augusta area with beans, O'Dell said.
"We try to educate our customers on the different types of roasts, the different types of blends - whatever it is that makes coffee coffee," he said.
Kanaras said Serendipity distinguishes itself by offering panini grilled sandwiches, ice cream treats and a loft area that can be reserved.
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