The community-focused coffee shop Randy and Tina Van Osten established nearly 18 years ago shuts its doors as another unfortunate casualty of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 10, 2021
Four years ago, Randy and Tina Van Osten first had to confront the possibility of selling off their community-focused Audubon coffee shop, The Treehouse.
At the time, Randy had just accepted a full-time pastorship at First Baptist Church of Pitman, where the family had relocated.
Tina, who teaches environmental science and biology at UrbanPromise Academy in Camden City, was similarly dividing her days between the classroom and the coffee shop.
The couple, parents to sons Mateo and Liam, worried that they wouldn’t be able to maintain both of their individual careers while managing a full-service coffee shop 15 miles away from their new home.
They managed to keep it going for another four years nonetheless, and, had their operations not been devastated by the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, might still have been.
“2019 was actually our best year ever, and 2020 was looking even better until the beginning of March,” Randy Van Osten said. “It sucked the wind out of our sails; sucked the life out of our business.”
While acknowledging that many businesses have struggled during the pandemic, The Treehouse, which relied heavily on walk-up traffic and neighbors gathering in its spacious lounge, “took a really hard hit,” he said.
As it did, demands on both Randy and Tina spiked, he working to address the myriad needs of parishioners who struggled under the same economic circumstances, and she meeting the challenges of remote student instruction.
“We both had a lot of extra work; we still put our time in at the shop,” Randy said.
“It’s been difficult. We weren’t able to transition what we do into something that brought in new people.
“We were able to transition very well to a takeout window, but it’s really different when your business is relationships,” he said.
“I think that really hurt us quite a bit, not having those relationships, and it’s been hard on us; hard on the staff.”
The Treehouse got some help from both within the Van Osten household (Mateo worked at the family business through most of the pandemic) and without (a state grant award helped meet payroll). Last year, an unexpected visit from New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, also provided a mid-summer boost.
But ultimately, it wasn’t enough to overcome the difficulties that had arisen and months of operating at a loss. March 14 will be the last day for the Treehouse, and the family doesn’t know if another operator will take it over.
“It’s been a hard decision,” Randy said. “What happens with the business is kind of up in the air at this point. We didn’t think it was an option to try to sell it again, but we’re open to offers.”
What weighs on the couple most, he said, is what will happen next for its nearly full-time staff of baristas, and how or whether the role the Treehouse has played in the community might be filled by something else.
“We have good food, we have good drinks, but I think people were attracted to us because there’s a seat at the table for everyone,” Randy said. “We always wanted to be a place where everyone felt loved.
“So many of those people have become part of our family,” he said.
“We’ve seen kids raised that were just born when we started.
“I’ve been so blessed to be able to perform weddings for customers; I’ve done baby blessings and dedications,” Randy said.
“It’s incredible when you have those kinds of relationships with people.”
After nearly 18 years of operation since it was established in Collingswood in 2003, losing the Treehouse feels a bit like watching their oldest child leaving the house for the Van Ostens, Randy said. After having put their creation into the world, they’re still hopeful that someone else will help it find its way again.
“I really hope that [the storefront] stays as a place that can support the community,” Randy said. “I really hope and pray that somebody comes in who will be open to the community, not just the space, but to donate and help. That’s what we’ve been about for so long.”
Remembering a Meeting Place for All to Gather
In a day and age of self checkout lines, online retail, text messaging…
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