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More coffee, books on the downtown New London menu

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 21. 2012 4:00AM

If you could rate a city by the number of good coffee shops it can sustain, it looks like New London is entering a new golden age.

Of course the old tried and trues are doing well: Thames River Beanery & Greenery on State Street and Muddy Waters on Bank Street.

Kelly's on Bank is settling in, after opening earlier this year.

More recently, Bean & Leaf, which had become a popular hangout during its long run on Washington Street, off upper State Street, has successfully relocated to the busy intersection of Bank and Howard streets.

The beautiful new Bean & Leaf, in the New London Harbour Towers condominium building, provides a nice storefront presence on that end of Bank Street, complete with outdoor tables.

Continuing the rollout, the old Bean & Leaf has been transformed into the new Washington Street Coffee House.

A young couple, Chris Sherman and Lisa Lebell, have remodeled the space and installed a sleek new design, including handsome old photographs of the downtown on the walls.

The new Washington Street Coffee House owners previously worked for the Oyster Club in Mystic. Lebell was the pastry chef there, and she is turning out a lot of tasty treats in New London.

Probably the most exciting news for New London coffee house culture, though, is the plan for a new bookstore adjacent to the Washington Street Coffee House.

Another young couple, Gina Holmes and Chris Jones, have signed a lease for a space in the same building as the coffee house and plan to open their Monte Cristo Bookshop there next month.

Renovations to the space are under way.

Jones told me this week they raised $10,000 during a recent web-based crowdfunding campaign. Donors included many local people and authors from around the country, Jones said.

"All these local contributors care so much about New London," Jones said. "I feel like this store is getting open, with us or without us."

The Monte Cristo will have about 20,000 books in inventory when it opens, he said. The majority will be new books, but they will also sell used and antiquarian books.

Jones and Holmes are hoping for a lot of synergy with the adjacent coffeehouse and want to create an atmosphere for browsing and sipping.

The building, which is also home to 2 Wives Brick Oven Pizza, has its own off-street parking and is convenient to walkers from all over downtown.

There is more retail space in the building, and Amy Sarcia, building manager, said they hope to build on the momentum and encourage more young people to open a related kind of business.

There are also 19 loft-style apartments in the building, all rented, Sarcia said.

I remember when New London got its first coffee shop. The big concrete planters that made State Street into a pedestrian mall (there is now a big black-and-white picture of them on the wall of the Washington Street Coffee House, they are that historical) were still in place.

Now the downtown is rich with coffeehouses and interesting retailers. Traffic flows freely on State Street. Downtown apartments rent quickly. And a bookstore is coming.

It does indeed look like a new golden era could be coalescing.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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