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EDITORIAL: After years of loss, leaders right to re-examine cafe

Taxpayers expect certain services from government: Roads, schools, police, courts, parks and libraries, to name a few. We do not expect lattes or sandwiches, but for years, taxpayer dollars have subsidized a county-owned cafe in the Cody library.

Thankfully, that appears to be changing.

After pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Biblio Bistro, Park County commissioners and library leaders agreed last week that the cafe cannot continue to be subsidized at roughly $50,000 a year.

We appreciate how library leaders are taking initiative and talking about turning the Bistro over to a private business. It makes sense to rent out the cafe space in the library, rather than trying to operate a county-owned restaurant.

For starters, a private business can do something the Biblio Bistro hasn’t been able to: Advertise.

Commissioners prohibited the Bistro from advertising, because they didn’t want government competing with local businesses, and rightfully so. But that left the Bistro hamstrung. Some locals didn’t know the Bistro even existed, and the library couldn’t do much to get the word out.

By making some changes to trim costs and attract more customers through marketing, the library cafe could be a successful venture for a local business.

The cafe has served as a nice gathering space within the library, and a private entity may choose to scale back the menu to only drinks and prepared pastries or bagels.

But it should be up to a private business — and not the library board or employees — to figure out how to make a cafe profitable. As Park County Library System Director Frances Clymer put it last week, “Librarians are not really trained to be restaurateurs.”

Clymer added that requesting proposals from private businesses “might be a fruitful experiment to see if we can do something beyond what we do now.”

Our hope is that the cafe space in the library will continue to be a spot that’s enjoyed by patrons while actually contributing toward the library’s overall budget instead of draining from it. Money generated from renting the space could go toward programming and services in the Park County Library System.

The Cody, Powell and Meeteetse communities are blessed to have a strong library system. Our local libraries give us valuable programs, gathering spaces and incredible access to books, technology and other resources.

Rather than dealing with the headaches of a cafe that has lost tens of thousands of dollars, we hope library leaders can focus on what they do best: Enriching our communities and encouraging learning for all ages. And leave the lattes and sandwiches to someone else.

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