May 19, 2023 - Business

Tinker Coffee makes a statement with downtown cafe

The Tinker Coffee logo on a window outside the new cafe in the 360 Market Square tower.

Tinker Coffee Co. is open in a former Starbucks location in the 360 Market Square tower. Photo: James Briggs/Axios

A growing coffee company is placing a big bet on downtown Indianapolis.

Driving the news: Tinker Coffee Co. is launching its largest cafe yet, offering pastries and drinks with menu categories ranging from approachable to adventurous.

  • Tinker is reactivating a former Starbucks that closed in the 360 Market Square apartment building in 2020.

Why it matters: Tinker's standalone retail store marks a new chapter for the company while serving as a counterpoint to business owners who say crime and homelessness have made downtown unviable.

State of play: Friday's opening comes as other retailers have closed downtown locations.

Baristas prepare drinks behind the counter inside the Tinker Coffee shop in downtown Indianapolis.
Tinker Coffee took over a former Starbucks in downtown Indianapolis. Photo: James Briggs/Axios

Zoom in: Ahead of the opening, Tinker talked with the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention and Horizon House, a downtown shelter, to understand the landscape.

  • "We don't expect the coffee shop to change the world or solve homelessness, but we can be supportive of people that are working through that and direct them to resources," Tinker co-owner Steve Hall told Axios.

Between the lines: Downtown is a Rorschach test, with some people seeing a vibrant city center and others a crime zone.

  • "It's almost like a philosophical thing. Maybe that has something to do with your political affiliation," Hall said.

Be smart: As Axios has reported, Republican candidates for governor and mayor are seizing on perceptions of declining economic activity and increasing crime in downtown.

Reality check: Downtown is one of the safest areas in the city, per the IBJ, and it's improving.

  • Violent incidents fell between 2020 and 2022 in all categories except robberies, which increased from 56 to 80.
  • There were four homicides downtown last year, down from six in 2020.

Meanwhile, Tinker's new location — adjacent to the City-County Building, Cummins and hundreds of apartments — is the next step in its journey from coffee roaster to retail cafe.

  • Tinker also has smaller shops at Indianapolis International Airport and the AMP food hall.

The bottom line: "I live downtown. A lot of other folks that work at the roastery are downtown folks," Hall said. "We think fondly back to pre-COVID, what downtown Indy felt like, and to me, it doesn't feel like we're that far off from 2018 or 2019. It's fun for us to be recreating that downtown vibrancy."


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