Coloring Outside the Lines


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adults coloring at Reverie Coffee Roasters; coloring in the café

(Photo: courtesy of Reverie Coffee Roasters.)

[O]n the second Tuesday of the month at Irie Bean Coffee Bar in Austin, Texas, I join patrons gathered around a large communal table stocked with markers, pastels, and gel pens in virtually every hue of the rainbow. Conversations unfold to a soundtrack of Beatles hits and the whirring of an espresso machine, as pages from a JuiceLand Coloring Book—inspired by an iconic local juice joint—spring to life with avocado greens, raspberry reds, and citrusy yellows. I use my coffee mug as an impromptu paper weight, anchoring blank coloring pages from the breeze created by the ceiling fan spinning overhead.

The scene at Irie mirrors one unfolding at several other coffee shops across the country: coloring book nights aimed at adults. These events can attract patrons on slow evenings, boost sales, foster a sense of community, and give coffee shops the opportunity to connect with local artists.

Interest in coloring books for adults has exploded in recent years. Publisher’s Weekly reports that 3,500 International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) were issued to adult coloring books in 2016, up 108 percent from the year prior. Several coffee shops are capitalizing on this popularity by hosting recurring or one-time events.

Trident Booksellers & Café in Boston, Massachusetts, sells books, coffee, and food. Seeing an opportunity in coloring books, they organized several community coloring events.

“We look at what’s popular and plan events that we would be interested in going to,” says events coordinator Mackenzie Van Engelenhoven. “We noticed a big upswing in adult coloring books and thought it would be fun for people to come to the café and color.”

Trident’s most recent event celebrated the release of a coloring book from local illustrator Amanda Laurel Atkins. “We provided all the supplies—crayons, markers, colored pencils—and featured pages from the book,” Van Engelenhoven says. “We had the book there for sale and had Amanda there to sign and talk about her art.” Most attendees ordered drinks and other goodies while coloring.

Trident’s Back Bay location makes it a popular destination for nearby college students and young professionals. “It’s a good de-stressor and a good way to let off some steam,” Van Engelenhoven says, adding that coloring book nights may eventually become a more regular occurrence.

Rose City Coffee Company in Portland, Oregon, hosted its own coloring event last May with local artist Dawn Furstenburg. Five dollars from each pound of whole bean coffee sold at the event and 20 percent of all art sales benefitted Women of Wisdom Portland, an organization supporting HIV-positive women.

Click here for a printable coloring sheet, illustrated by
Cynthia Meadors.

Rose City’s café walls feature work from a different artist each month; in May they featured Furstenburg’s art to help promote the event. Owner Christie Gryphon says Furstenburg has books in shops carrying Rose City Coffee, which gave an additional incentive to support the author.

“Our goal is to be involved in the community,” Gryphon says of the Women of Wisdom event. “That one was really fun, and during our staff meeting we talked about having another one.”

About a year ago, Reverie Coffee Roasters launched weekly coloring events at their café in Wichita, Kansas. “My wife had been telling me to do it for a long time because this is what she’s into,” says owner Andrew Gough. Gough knew there was an existing demand for coloring events; a brewery down the street hosted its own coloring book events on Sundays and overflow patrons would sometimes bring their coloring books and art supplies to Reverie when the brewery ran out of space.

“When the first one happened, it was insane,” Gough says. “It was so big, it became almost a nuisance. We have capacity around sixty-five, so sometimes there were over fifty people coloring.” Over time, Reverie switched to monthly instead of weekly meetings but still sees plenty of coloring book enthusiasts. “The craze has worn off a bit,” he says.

Even so, Gough likes how the earlier coloring events helped create community and made his shop more lively in the evenings. “For the most part, people were really friendly,” he says. The events brought strangers together in the spirit of community and a shared interest. “That was the best part, because it was an opportunity for people who don’t know each other to hang out.”

The popularity of adult coloring books may fade—only time will tell. But for businesses looking to engage customers in new ways, coloring events offer yet another avenue to facilitate community connection and exercise creativity in the café.

Susan Johnston Taylor is a freelance writer who covers small business.

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