Black Rock Coffee goes downtown

Shop opened this month at former Sparks Home Furnishings site

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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The owners and developers of the new Black Rock Coffee Bar know they’re occupying a rather historic spot in downtown Vancouver, and they don’t want any of their patrons to forget it.

The coffee shop, which opened Oct. 9, is located in the former Sparks Home Furnishings building at 1001 Broadway. The store closed last year after 132 years in Vancouver. The property is owned by Hurley Development.

“What excited me (about the location) was the opportunity to be in the central part of the community,” said Ryan Hagler, a managing partner of Black Rock and one of the investors who opened the new downtown location. “It goes back to the original idea of the coffee shop, which was to give the community a place to gather and come up with ideas. This is a place where the inception of ideas happens. Before people have an office, they meet at places like this.”

Respecting history

Anyone familiar with the old Sparks store should recognize a few reminders inside Black Rock. The large “R” from the Sparks sign sits high above the counter. Some of the light fixtures came from Sparks. Near a sitting area, there are two bookcases with a brick wall between them that came from the outside of the building. On that brick wall sits a large photo of the Sparks family from the 1880s that was provided by the Clark County Historical Museum. There is also a sign hanging in the shop noting the Sparks family was an instrumental part of the community.

“Coming into this space, we wanted to respect our history,” Hagler said. “Sparks was a big part of the community, and we want to respect that while continuing to help Vancouver move forward.”

Hagler looked for a spot in downtown Vancouver not only because the area was attracting businesses but also because it was becoming a place for people to come and hang out. Hagler highlighted the downtown farmers market and art walk as events that bring people to the city center.

“Downtown is in this adolescent phase right now,” said Greg McGreevey, operations officer at Hurley. “I think the change started with Esther Short Park and the Hilton. Downtown used to be a place businesses came to just because it was cheap, but now you have regional companies looking to come here. You have chefs from Portland looking to come here. The next step is to get permanent housing, which is coming. It’s this progression, and it’s already underway. The waterfront is going to be a big part of that.”

Black Rock would love to have a location at Vancouver’s redeveloped waterfront, Hagler said, but that 32-acre project will take time to unfold. Meanwhile, he estimates that another seven to 10 Black Rocks will open in Clark County within the next two years.

The regional company, which opened its first location in Beaverton, Ore., in February 2008, has 29 locations in Washington, Oregon and California. Nine of those are in Clark County. The downtown Vancouver location signals some changes for Black Rock, which started with only drive-through shops. The downtown Vancouver location is the first without a drive-through, and the first that offers a seasonal single origin coffee menu. Currently, the location is offering Ethiopian coffee, which Hagler thinks is “the best coffee in the world.”

The Black Rock menu offers a variety of drink options, from drip coffee to mochas to espresso to hot tea. Hagler said a lot of the smaller mom and pop coffee shops in Vancouver make incredible coffee, but he thinks a lot of them don’t serve a broader audience. Black Rock can strike a balance, serving people who want a simple coffee and people who are interested in things like lattes and espressos, he said.

Hagler also thinks Black Rock, despite being a chain, can be a neighborhood coffee shop. Every location has a monthly allowance of a few hundred dollars to spend on the local community, and it’s up to that location’s manager to decide how to spend it. Some locations use it to give away coffee and gift cards, and others link up with local schools and organizations to hold fundraisers.

“We want to create a connection with the community,” he said. “We’re trying to be an energetic, more uplifting coffee shop. We want it to be genuine.”

That’s partly why Hurley decided to get into business with Black Rock.

“We’re primarily focused on real estate, but the ethos of these guys is that they really are part of the community where they’re located,” McGreevey said. “They’re connected to the pulse of what’s going on in the community, and that’s a good company to be a part of.”