While coffee giant Starbucks seems on the decline, a Berks-based cafe co-op is flourishing.In July, Starbucks announced it would close two of its three locations in Berks County, but Hard Bean Cafe, a loosely affiliated group of coffee shops launched by Scott Bortz boasts eight locations in Berks, including a new location in Boyertown and stores in Maryland, Georgia and Missouri.

"While they're [coffee chains] more formal, we have a place where people can put their feet up on the tables," said Bortz. "We try to add a little funk into the stores. We try to make it feel a little used but well kept."

Hard Bean already has locations in West Reading, Hamburg, Fleetwood and Boyertown, locally.

Boyertown cafe co-owner Barry Kerns says his daughter Jessica Mull began working for Bortz, her uncle, in the West Reading Hard Bean Cafe 20 years ago.

Kerns said during that time she had often urged him to open a similar cafe.

"I retired from my day job and we picked the location," he said.

Bortz said the term for the decor and mood for the Hard Bean cafes is "Corporate Bohemian," the other side of the spectrum from larger coffee chains.

Locals and coffee lovers stopped at the Boyertown cafe during its ceremonial ribbon cutting courtesy of Building a Better Boyertown on Friday, Aug. 15.

At other coffee stores, a single cup of joe is prepared in assembly line fashion. At Hard Bean, everything is made behind the counter with care.

The Hard Bean co-operatives are operated independently, making them less like chains and more individual entities.

The atmosphere in Hard Bean is more intimate than standard bean businesses.

The floors are red-painted wood panels that appear scuffed, dented and worn, as if each cafe has been around for years.

Hung from the ceiling, varying sizes of circular lighting balloons are set at seemingly random spots, to give more of a luminescent appearance.

Intriguing art sculptures for sale adorn walls. Presently, a violin overgrown with vines hangs on one wall. Towards the back, abstract paintings and drawings add to the ambiance.

Behind the counter, dozens of bottles and containers are half filled with colorful flavored syrups to add to the coffee.

Loungy leather chairs and couches add to the comfy decor.

The atmosphere is so informal, a group of students worked in the corner of the cafe, building a dog sculpture out of chicken wire and paper mache for an upcoming Dog Days weekend in the borough.

Contact Matthew Reichl at 610-367-6041, ext. 240 or mreichl@berksmontnews.com

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