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'The Unseen Bean' and the consequences of growth on small business

Posted at 10:30 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-02 00:30:37-04

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BOULDER, Co. -- Think about a challenging day you’ve had recently. Now try to overcome it without the ability to see.

A Boulder small businessman is struggling to keep his coffee roasting dream alive after growth and development pushed him out of his affordable location, strained his budget, and put his half-dozen employees at risk of losing their jobs. And he’s trying to do it as a blind man.

“I can’t see. I have no vision,” Gerry Leary explained.

Leary has been blind since birth as a result of retinopathy. Yet he still started his own business called “The Unseen Bean,” roasting coffee beans and selling them to local retailers from his own coffee shop.

“I use sound and smell and a timer,” he explained.

Usually coffee roasters rely on the color of the beans to know when they’re done. Leary relies on only two senses instead. He says the coffee beans change how they sound as they tumble through a roaster, and also change how they smell.

He used to roast at a small location in Lafayette, until he fell victim to growth and development.

“(The owners) decided to repurpose it once again and I wasn’t in the plans so they decided not to renew my lease,” he said. “I couldn’t find anything locally within my budget.”

That forced a move to Mead in Weld County. But since he’s blind and can’t drive, Leary is forced to either take a series of buses or pay for a $50 Uber or Lyft ride just to get to his roasting job. That added cost has added up.

“We’re way in the red right now,” he explained.

That has put the future of his coffee shop in Boulder, also named “The Unseen Bean,” in jeopardy.

“We’re in a battle against time and dollars.”

The coffee shop employs about six people, mostly college students or young people with disabilities like Leary. The business manager is deaf, one barista is also blind.

“I do think a lot about them and keeping them going, keeping them working,” Leary said.

To help keep things afloat, the small businessman is looking for help.

“I’m having to find some administrative help,” he said. “And a driver.”

That would help save money and swing his finances to the point where he can look for a cheaper location, closer to Boulder.

“It just makes me realize that there’s more hard work to put into it,” he explained.

Without his sight, with his business just hanging on, somehow Gerry still has a positive outlook.

“In spite of the challenges that confront me I’m thankful that I can get out there and do it, he said.

After all, the saying isn’t “wake up and *see* the coffee.”