Entering through the heavy glass doors to the 1872 Café, I was hit with a sense of awe, for I was standing on hallowed land. I realized that the building I was entering stood on ground of historic value, as it was where Susan B. Anthony cast her first illegal vote. Walking towards the counter behind it stood a young woman whose sparkling personality poured out with only the sight of her amazingly welcoming smile, the warmth that emitted from her eyes with their meticulously applied black eyeliner and her full black attire. When I asked to speak with the working owner, I was surprised to learn it was she.
Ms. Samantha Councilman, an attractive, twenty-eight year old is the working owner of the 1872 Café. For our interview we sat at one of the café’s tables which are surrounded by glass walls, allowing for the ambiance of the city to be in full view. The chair Ms. Councilman sat in had the only wall in the building behind her. The wall displays a drawing of Susan B. Anthony and in large print the words to the 19th amendment giving women in America the right to vote. This young woman amazed me when she spoke with such enthusiasm and conviction for the vision she has for the café. It surprised me to learn that she herself, who grew up in the small town of North Cohocton, prefers to work surrounded by diversity and right in the midst of the beating heart of the city.
Ms. Councilman mentioned some of her ideas which she has already implemented at the 1872 Café. There is a monthly Family Game Night which, when weather permits, allows for the children from the neighborhood to engage in activities on the café’s property with their families. By bringing families together in play, she believes this has a positive impact on the community which her café serves. And, that is what she wants the café to be, a hub of the neighborhood. She wants the café to be a place where people want to come, a destination.
They also have live music on the first Sunday of each month from 6pm to 9pm when the café is usually closed. The event is called The Gospel Open Mike Night. The event didn’t originate at this café. However, its location was moved there and recently held its first anniversary at the 1872 Café. The Gospel Open Mike Night is a free event for those who Ms. Councilman say live on the Voters Block (those living in the apartments across the street from the café and in the apartments behind the café) and admission is $5.00 for all others.
The café took part, as did many other coffee shops in the Rochester area, on April 4, 2017 in the Equal Pay Day event which was sponsored by the N.O.W. organization (National Organization of Women). Ms. Councilman was featured with a sit down interview on Fox News Network on that day promoting the event. Customers, who were men, were charged the regular menu prices. Women were charged 20% less for the same items. The reasoning behind the event was to make men aware that women whom they work with who are doing the same jobs are being paid 20% less. Ms. Councilman said that the male customers were all supportive of the idea for the event and many had no idea that the discrimination in salary was taking place. Those men said they had mothers, sisters, or daughters who worked and had no idea there was a salary discrepancy. She also had male customers who specifically came into the shop that day to purchase items as they had seen the Fox news piece and wanted to show their support for the cause. Ms. Councilmen said that she did not want to exclude men from her shop as she loves men. She explained that it wasn’t about hurting men by charging them more. Ms. Councilman saw the event as nothing more than an awareness experience for men.
What Ms. Councilman didn’t expect were some of the phone calls and emails she received from the Fox news piece being aired on that day. She found it strange that the only men who called her to complain about the discount for women all came from other states. She received calls from as far away as California and Denver. She received numerous negative phone calls from men with her having to explain repeatedly how the day was not about being unfair to men but rather an awareness of the discrepancy of salaries. She realized that those she spoke with were not grasping the concept. By the end of the day of handling all these obnoxious calls Ms. Councilman had nothing left to say to these men except, “Why is it that no man complains when bars have free drinks for women events? Is it because you don’t have a chance to get laid with this event?”
Another event that she has planned for the café is a monthly Author’s Spotlight. Ms. Councilman wants to be a platform for local female authors and help pull the community together and show what the women in this city have accomplished, what they are doing and what they are contributing to the world. She has already booked female authors for July, August and September. Next on her list is to find local female artists, as well, to start featuring their works at the 1872 Café.
Ms. Councilman has, as she puts it, been “slinging coffee” for almost ten years now. It was how she worked her way through college. While in school, she first focused on photography then graphic design. She believes these ventures help her with the maintaining of all the café’s social media which include a FaceBook Page and an Instagram account. Both accounts can be found with the same user name 1872 Café.
Ms. Councilman certainly manifests a sense of comfort and confidence when at the café. She proudly admits to enjoying being one of the first people someone meets in the morning when they stop in to get their coffee. As she states, “The first interactions you have with a person can set the mood for a person’s entire day.” She loves being that first person, and she is thrilled when she has a customer who comes in cranky and leaves with a smile. She takes great pride making a difference in peoples’ everyday lives, and it certainly shows. She has cultivated relationships with the regulars and enjoys meeting new customers and making their day just a little bit happier.
When asked, Ms. Councilman admits that everything positive about her comes from being raised by such a strong single mother. She states, “My mother is the reason I am who I am, in any positive sense.” Although, in the same breath admits that she believes that her true love of the city must be in her DNA from her father’s side. Although, he was not present much in her life, he lived in the heart of the city. She feels that his love of the city has been passed down to her as she feels more comfortable and safer in this city than in her country hometown.
Ms. Councilman wants to help change the ignominy attached to living on the Westside. She said, “There is a stigma attached to living on the Westside of the city. There is something about leaving the expressway and taking a left and going under the Broad Street Bridge that has a negative feel about it to people.” She believes there are good people here and that the stereotype of the Westside needs to change. With such fever she explained how this neighborhood was the one where Fredrick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony lived and where history was made. She has a sense of pride about the Westside that is exhibited whenever she speaks of it.
This past 2016 presidential election was a popular day at the 1872 Café. It was full to capacity. Women came from all around the county to watch the election on the one TV in the café, and to put their I VOTED stickers on the ballot box where Susan B. Anthony had placed her first illegal vote. When I learned that the actual ballot box that was used by Ms. Anthony was on the premises, I asked to see it. Ms. Councilman brought me to the courtyard and showed me the ballot box which is affixed to a stand. Watching her touch the box with a look of extreme reverence on her face made me aware of how much working at this café each day affects her.
Ms. Councilman states that with each idea she has for the café, she asks herself, “What would Susan B. Anthony think of this idea”. She is perplexed as to why all women’s groups in the area do not hold their meetings at this café. I too, in agreement, cannot understand why women groups would not desire to hold their meetings there. For, if it wasn’t for women like Susan B. Anthony, those groups might not be in existence today. Plus, being a woman, you feel empowered just entering the door to this café. You can’t help but feel the importance of the café’s placement.
After speaking with Ms. Councilman, hearing her longing for the hope she feels for the city’s future and the café’s neighborhood, you are left with the certainty that if anyone can pull it off it will definitely be her.