When Mary Nishimuta bought Kentucky Coffeetree Caf last February, it already provided a place for regulars to take part in conversation and relaxation, not to mention a mean cup of joe.
Now, Nishimuta is trying to take the conversation to a new level.
"People need spaces to hang out and spaces to have a forum where you can corral people's energies," she said.
In the four months she has owned the coffee shop on Broadway Street, Nishimuta has attempted to create a community-centered business with that idea in mind.
Formerly of New Hampshire, Nishimuta moved to Frankfort about two years ago along with her partner, Walt. She bought the coffee shop from neighboring businesses Poor Richard's Bookstore and
Completely Kentucky. Each store owned 50 percent of the caf previously.
"It was all about timing," Nishimuta said. "We were looking to contribute to downtown at the same time the previous owners wanted to concentrate on their businesses."
Two weeks ago, Kentucky Coffeetree unveiled two new computer stations for community members to use with the coffee shop's authorization. Kentucky Coffeetree already provided free wireless Internet, but Nishimuta said the new computers "are to enable people to be able to work and relax at the same place.
"It's not an Internet caf, but if you contribute to our community and need a computer, that's what they are there for."
Customers interested in registering an account at the caf must fill out an application specifying how they contribute to Frankfort before they can use the computers.
On the same wall as the computers, Nishimuta has placed a large flat screen TV. Formerly, the wall was lined with books belonging to the next-door bookstore.
"The motivation behind all of this was to make it more of a community center, a place where people really use the space," Nishimuta said. "With that we put in a flat screen TV, and that was primarily for film documentaries and showings."
The recent additions in technology to the caf are just as much for her loyal customer base as her business, Nishimuta said.
"We have a strong following of people who believe in what we are doing downtown and want to see it grow and want to see it expand," she said.
Her interest in downtown revitalization piqued during the two years that she lived in Portsmouth, N.H. prior to moving to Frankfort.
"When I lived in Portsmouth, I saw what that town had been and what it became," she said. "They cleaned up the warehouses and bad parts of town and made it a nice city."
Nishimuta said she holds the same type of revitalized vision for downtown Frankfort.
Last month, the flat screen was used for a showing of The End of Suburbia, a documentary about American oil consumption and the possibility of a future oil crisis.
Nishimuta said the idea behind the showing was to "bring that discussion locally here to figure out what we are going to do." She said the television will be used for future films, like The End of Suburbia, which address public issues and concerns.
With a wall of books removed for more electronics. Nishimuta said the extra floor space allows area for music acts to perform. She also has allowed local groups to use the space for organized discussions.
Recent talks have included motivational tips for participants of the upcoming Pro.Active for Life 5K Run/Walk and a discussion about the significance of integrity in the community led by a Kentucky State University professor.
Nishimuta said the integrity discussion, led by Dr. Dennis Rader, had people talking right up to closing.
"We were literally mopping the floors when they left," she said with a laugh. "Everybody was really into, "What does this mean for Frankfort?'"
Nishimuta said signs of her vision for a vibrant downtown Frankfort are beginning to take shape " with the new technology playing a key role.
On Derby Day this year with the newly installed flat screen, Nishimuta said 40 to 50 crowded the caf to enjoy the race.
"Derby Day was incredible," she said. "There were lots of kids running around. It was like we opened our living room to Frankfort."
With the increased summer traffic this time of year, Nishimuta said the coffee shop is expanding its hours and its menu.
The caf already offers smoothies, sandwiches, soups, quiches and desserts in addition to 20 different varieties of organic and fair trade coffee roasts. Nishimuta said the menu additions haven't been finalized, but more lunch and dinner options will be forthcoming.
For this summer's concert series, customers can order a half rack of ribs along with a side of coleslaw and corn bread every Friday.
"We have a freezer just packed with ribs," she said.