By Patrick Yeagle
It all started with a hotel.
Jonas and Jane Ann Petty were living in Pittsfield in 2008 when they opened the William Watson Hotel, named after the town's first settler who established the Mansion House hotel in the same building in 1838. That venture spawned the Free Press Coffee House, then another in Mt. Sterling, and finally one in Springfield.
"I realized that while we're a great historic spot, we needed a little something extra," said Jane Ann Petty. "I love coffee, and we didn't have a coffee shop in Pittsfield."
The Springfield location of Free Press Coffee House opened at 1370 Toronto Road in January, and Petty says another location at 916 South Grand Avenue West is scheduled to open later this year. She says the shop at the corner of South Grand Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard is very small, so the larger Toronto Road location allows them to test ways to maximize space.
The "Free Press" name comes from the Pike County Free Press, a former newspaper edited by John George Nicolay, a friend and eventual biographer of Abraham Lincoln.
Petty says coffee shops often serve as social centers, meaning they can play a role in revitalizing neighborhoods. Although Free Press Coffee House on Toronto Road has a public WiFi hotspot, Petty says most people actually use the space to relax with friends.
"It's a place to just come and visit," she said.
Petty notes that Free Press doesn't roast its own coffee beans, instead using beans from several roasters, including Custom Cup Coffee in Springfield and others in St. Louis, Peoria and even Arkansas. After learning about the origins of the coffee beans and the work put into producing them, Petty said she felt a sense of responsibility to use them well.
"We are very, very passionate about the quality of the coffee we provide to our customers," Petty said, adding that Free Press also focuses on customer service. "We want to make sure every customer who comes through our door is well taken care of, that we pay attention to them. We do understand that it's not possible without our customers."
Contact Patrick Yeagle at [email protected].