After nearly five years of being unabashedly themselves, the owners of Spaceman Coffee are closing down their unique space on West Sprague Avenue.
Owner Kaiti Black said she and her wife, Kristen, decided a couple of months ago to close up shop. Profit margins at a coffee shop are always razor thin, Kaiti said, and the location – east of downtown, across from the Greyhound bus station – isn’t the most walkable.
“We’d been surviving well enough for the last few years, but then the world started getting screwy,” Kaiti said.
Spaceman has been closed since March 14, waiting out the pandemic. They weren’t originally planning to open back up at all, but friends convinced Kaiti and Kristen to have “one last hurrah” for the regulars they’ve become close to over the years. It didn’t seem fair just to “ghost,” Kristen said.
The shop reopened Thursday and will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday before closing for good.
The small, cozy space is normally filled with space- and science-fiction-themed decor, with vintage TV trays on the benches and orange plastic tables in the back. On Thursday, the tables and trays were stacked up and the walls nearly empty, save for a large Pride flag on the wall, cardboard cutouts of Boba Fett from “Star Wars,” a Dalek from “Doctor Who” and Spaceman’s trusty mascot, Dave.
Dave was first a mannequin salvaged when Macy’s closed, Kaiti said, and they added an orange space suit and helmet, plus an Ood mask – a creepy, tentacle-faced monster from the sci-fi show “Doctor Who.” Kristen said Dave was representative of the “weird, nerdy” vibe Spaceman always aimed for. They opened the shop shortly after David Bowie’s death in January 2016 and wanted to pay homage and fill a void they saw in Spokane’s themed destinations.
Plus, Kristen joked, Dave serves as a good stand-in for the third co-owner, Brandon Nelson, who left for graduate school in Chicago.
The shop has drawn locals and real-life spacemen alike over the years. Kristen said the shop became popular with NASA scientists visiting Spokane, and astronaut Anne McClain, a Spokane native, even took one of the shop’s pins and a Pride flag onto the International Space Station.
Carly Popham was behind the counter at Spaceman Thursday morning, offering “moral support” to Kaiti and Kristen. She doesn’t work at the shop – they’ve never had any employees, as the owners sling all the drinks themselves – but she’s spent so much time there, she may as well.
Popham said she would miss Spaceman’s unique vibe and the homemade syrups, which come in unexpected flavors, including black walnut and lavender, but absolutely never white chocolate. Most of all, she said she would miss the open, welcoming atmosphere.
“They’re really one of very few openly LGBTQ+ friendly, queer-owned spaces here in town,” Popham said. “And that’s so important, especially in this environment.”
Kaiti Black maintained that while the coffee at Spaceman has always been first priority, it wasn’t “anything special.” They opened as an espresso shop, and they stayed that way. There are no smoothies or white coffee on the menu, just “pretty placid Italian drinks,” Kaiti said.
Kristen Black said what distinguished their store was that they always have been “unabashedly, totally true to ourselves.” Kaiti and Kristen know how to make good coffee, but there is no pretense behind it, she said. They always avoided coffee trends and simply did what they wanted to.
“We never got things like the flat white,” Kaiti said. “What even is that?”
(An espresso drink with steamed milk.)
What Kristen will miss most is the people, above all. Usually, the store is bustling with regulars who walk downtown for work. When Spaceman was broken into last December, Kristen said it took some time to recover, but the nonstop community support was what pulled them through.
Shea Rose, one of those regulars who works at a spa nearby, was pleasantly surprised to see Spaceman open again Thursday. She was happy to be back at work again, after being stuck at home for so long, but after three years of coming to Spaceman every week she was going to miss it.
But Kaiti and Kristen aren’t ruling out the possibility of a return. They won’t liquidate their equipment, though Kaiti had to prevent Kristen from bringing the industrial-sized drip coffee machine home for personal use.
Kaiti said maybe someday they’ll find a new space. But right now, it’s simply too emotional to think about. Dave, though, is taken care of – he’ll have a new home at Mountain Lakes Brewing Company, just around the corner.
Despite the less-than-ideal location, they’ll find things to miss. When someone across the street at the bus station suddenly started tunelessly playing a plastic recorder, cutting through the conversation, Kaiti rolled her eyes and chuckled.
“Welcome to Sprague,” she said.
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