After Uncertainty, Covington's Roebling Point Books & Coffee Thinks About Expansion

The beloved community coffeeshop and bookstore keeps its historic location and looks to the future after almost having to shut its doors

Dec 9, 2019 at 5:24 pm
click to enlarge Richard Hunt, owner of Roebling Point Books & Coffee. - Katie Griffith
Katie Griffith
Richard Hunt, owner of Roebling Point Books & Coffee.

It’s 7:30 a.m. Gray November clouds slink outside and a biting wind blows through the front door, briefly upsetting the cozy warmth of Roebling Point Books & Coffee. Bits of red and yellow leaves sneak in just before a mailwoman enters. 

“I just came in to hang out before work,” she says. “I’m already caffeinated.” 

It’s rush hour on Greenup Street in Covington and inside Roebling Point; the front door might as well be a revolving one. Barista Brea McConnal greets the mailwoman, saying with a smile, “No problem. That’s Elvis,” nodding toward a wiry-haired dog who welcomes almost every customer with an adorable underbite and quick sniff. “He will assist you.” 

For some, the 10-year-old shop is a part of their morning rush. For others, it’s a part of their morning slow-down or “third place,” as owner Richard Hunt says. “You have work and home and then the other place you go to,” he says.

Either way it’s ingrained in most patron’s routines, ones they feared might need to be refigured when Roebling Point was recently challenged with a new, highly demanding rent.

“Covington is becoming hot,” Hunt says. “We had a great rent and what they wanted to move to is called a ‘market rent.’ It’s one of those things we can’t do.”

Hunt says his lease with local real estate developer Urban Sites dates back to 2015, a lasting and affordable relationship until October, when Hunt says he received a letter stating the new amount, which was four times more than what he’d been paying in the past. With that cost in mind, Roebling announced it would have to close shop by the year’s end — though that’s no longer the case. 

For now, a non-binding letter of intent between Hunt and Urban Sites promises a future for Roebling Point. A five-year lease is in the works with a monthly bill that the store can foot; specific numbers were not shared by Hunt or Urban sites. 

“The growing popularity of the area means we’d have no problem renting that space at market rate,” says Greg Olson, CEO of Urban Sites, in an email. “But looking for an arrangement to extend our relationship with Roebling was our first course of action and we’re glad that’s the course we took. More importantly, we believe Roebling’s loyal customers are glad we did it, too.”

Because the shop is involved in and supported by the community, Roebling Point was challenged but not overwhelmed by the rent increase. Hunt sits on the board of institutions Keep Covington Beautiful and Renaissance Covington; the shop also provides free community meeting space. Hunt and employees also participate in cleanups and giveback programs like Adopt-a-Spot.

“It’s the question of the moment,” Hunt says. “When big, new buildings come in it becomes something you can’t look around. But I’d like to think that it cannot overwhelm what’s already in place.” 

Hunt says he didn’t want to be a lever when it comes to increased rent. He feared that even if Roebling Point was able to pay the new price, it might be used against other small businesses in the neighborhood. 

“I thought, I just can’t cave,” he says. “I don’t want to be the example that’s pointed to and be the first to fall.”

It’s a win for Hunt and the community, which is responsible for Roebling Point’s ability to survive and thrive. 

When Adventure Keen Publishing moved from Walnut Hills to Covington in 2009, Hunt, president of the publishing company, noticed residents peering through the windows, curious about the space. The building, which once housed Kenton County Legal Aid and is said to have been the office of John A. Roebling, already had a local celebrity aura.  

“We noticed this interest right away and thought maybe it’s time (Adventure Keen works) in the offices on the second floor and evolves into the bookstore (on the first),” Hunt says. 

Roebling Point has created its niche by providing fair-trade, organic coffee in addition to books and by sharing profound quotes on the chalkboards on the building’s exterior. Multiple rooms house a customer-influenced book inventory. Fiction and non-fiction works rest among local authors, poetry, children’s books and a handful of classics.

“We are not best-seller driven,” Hunt says. “You can get those books a lot of different places; here we try to look at the books that maybe people have always meant to read.”

Before the stress of these past months, Hunt notes Roebling Point rarely faced adversity. Lack of parking and reliable WiFi are minuscule problems comparatively. Luckily, he and the shop are resurfacing with pride and even ideas of expansion. 

“It’s appealing to think about small bookstores in other areas,” he says. “So, it might actually turn out that this makes us grow a little bit.”

When the possibility of having to move or close loomed, the search for a new home was afoot and multiple individuals reached out to Hunt with requests for Roebling Point to relocate to their neighborhoods. Dayton, Kentucky and North College Hill are some candidates for where another Roebling Point could thrive and maybe become employee-share-owned, Hunt says.  

Chas Brannen is a member of the self-appointed Roebling Point “salon,” a group of locals who convene each morning in the store’s main room. The salon banded over four years ago and the six-plus members would be lost without the physical hub to gather.

“It’s extraordinary what (Roebling Point) means to the community,” Brannen says. “And it’s all a result of Richard Hunt’s personality, his drive, his dreams. Look around. We are sitting in old chairs drinking coffee and there’s a dog hunkered down over there.”

Naturally, residents and patrons want to know what’s next for Roebling Point. For now, the almost decade-old bookstore and coffeeshop is being rewarded with continual business and the possibility of a second “third place."

Roebling Point Books & Coffee is located at 306 Greenup St., Covington. More info:

*Correction: A previous iteration of this article stated that Roebling Point first announced their closure — though that's no longer the case— in November. It was announced in October.