Montreal’s third Dispatch Coffee location opened up on the Plateau in the last few weeks. It’s in a storefront that used to sell eyeglasses on the corner of St-Laurent and Duluth — and one Eater tipster noticed what may seem like a minor change to the building, but one that could be significant for some Montrealers.
The step up to the door has been filled in, making a ramp. Inside, the main seating area at the back of the cafe is raised to look down on the coffee bar, and also has a ramp to access it.
Dispatch founder and owner Chrissy Durcak explains that from the outset, she wanted the new Plateau location to accommodate any customer. “When we design our spaces so we’re always thinking about who everyone is. So it was kind of a no-brainer to us to make sure that we could invite strollers and wheelchairs into our retail location.”
For Dispatch, it wasn’t a matter of simply adding the ramp as a token feel-good measure — it’s something that has a tangible effect on Durcak’s customer base.
“We had a customer send us a message shortly before the lead up to opening, and she commented on social media to ask if the space was going to be accessible. But in the first week we were in soft opening mode, and accessibility was the last thing on our list. She tried to come in the first week and the ramp wasn’t installed yet on the exterior. She said ’we tried to come and it was inconvenient,’” she recounts
“I found that to be a very touching interaction that transcends basic business level stuff. At the end of the day we’re just a cafe … creating a space for people to have a really nice moment in their day and that should be something that’s available to every citizen that lives in the city.”
Walk into the Plateau Dispatch location and ask the baristas about the ramp, and they all talk with a certain pride about it. They have a clear awareness of what it says about the cafe’s values: there’s a concerted effort to be open to everybody.
Durcak says she’s conscious that not all owners in the hospitality industry and beyond are thinking the same way (not to mention that given Montreal’s abundance of stairs, a non-ground level business might have major hurdles to accessibility).
“I think we need to be aware...that there’s a wide demographic of consumers and individuals who are not able bodied and this should be a baseline standard that all businesses are held accountable to.”
That said, making accessible spaces can be easier said than done: for the Plateau Dispatch, she says the cost could have been up to $1,200, but there’s no specific price tag since it was included by the contractor. Durcak is happy to pay for it though.
“Of course we’re a small business, we have a small budget, our space is not 100% wheelchair certified, since we don’t have an automatic door that opens. But even with our small budget, there’s way to thoughtfully design our spaces to accommodate non-able bodied customers.”
There is also provincial government help available — the Quebec government allows the costs of ramps or automatic doors to be deducted from taxes or revenues. Durcak also highlights one much cheaper way to at least begin approaching the issue.
“What businesses can do that’s free is invite communication with their customers, and invite constructive comments and inform themselves about what the best practices are for building accessibility into their spaces — so they have informed answers to give to their customers who they might be alienating.”
But ultimately for Durcak it seems that making a space open to everyone shouldn’t be a burden, but something that a business owner would want to do.
“It makes all the difference in the sense that [non able-bodied people] can experience the same things, so they have the full liberty to explore and consume from whichever businesses they want. for a business to have the power to withhold from all citizens is unfortunate.”
STATUS — Dispatch Coffee is open at 4021 St-Laurent from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.