Arbutus, a quaint suburban town featuring the retro Hollywood Theatre and consignment shops, has a small town feel that attracts families and day-trippers alike. Yet many University of Maryland, Baltimore County students have never explored the town that lies just a short walk or bus ride from campus. Community leaders in Arbutus and UMBC hope that OCA Mocha, the UMBC student-led cafe that will house the Office of Community Affairs (OCA), will bridge this divide.
In 2016, businesses in Arbutus noticed “some of the decline in the area happening” and decided to revamp the town, according to Bettina Tebo, the President of the Greater Arbutus Business Association. “The [business association] board got together and decided that we should just start anew and take our energy and collectively come together to make a difference in Arbutus,” said Tebo. Now, “Arbutus is a very hometown kind of place.”
After the local business banded together in 2016, UMBC’s President’s Council took its first tour of Arbutus. “The relationship between UMBC and Arbutus from that point on just continued to develop and grow,” Tebo said. “The businesses in the area have been wanting to embrace UMBC for years.” OCA Mocha has the potential to solidify this relationship between the community and the university.
In addition to increasing options for people in the town, Tebo hopes that the coffee shop will attract students who are not drawn out by the current options. “It helps to change a little bit of the business district,” she said. “I think the people in the town are excited to see something fresh and new come in, and the community will embrace that.”
Vrinda Deshpande, President of the Student Government Association (SGA), echoed Tebo’s hopes that UMBC students will venture out into the town. “I think they’ve [the OCA Mocha team] recognized that the best way to get students out into Arbutus is by showing them that students are already there,” said Deshpande.
The Writing Center at UMBC is the first organization to take advantage of the new space. Professor Elaine MacDougall, Director of the Writing Center, hosted a weekend writing retreat at OCA Mocha this past weekend, Oct. 5 and 6. According to MacDougall, hosting the retreat at the coffee shop “seemed like a win-win situation for both the purposes of the writing retreat and publicity for the space.”
Other organizations will also be able to host events and club meetings at OCA Mocha. “That provides that catalyzing step to bring students out of the loop,” Deshpande said. “I know on SGA’s front, we’d love to host some of our team building and civic engagement programming in OCA Mocha, and I’ve heard from other organizations that there are plans for karaoke, live music, poetry,” she added. “The possibilities are endless.”
However, these plans are all tentative until OCA Mocha announces the new date for its grand opening soon. Originally scheduled to open on the first day of the fall semester, the space has yet to open to the public and closed again after the Writing Center’s retreat.
On Aug. 26, the OCA Mocha team announced that the grand opening of the cafe would be postponed “due to unfortunate delays in construction work,” according to their post on Instagram. Professor Gib Mason, who taught the class from which the idea for OCA Mocha emerged, noted that the opening has been “pushed back approximately 45 days.” If this approximation holds true, students should expect OCA Mocha to open sometime around Oct. 10.
Mason added that “the funding of OCA Mocha was not a significant contributor to the delay in opening.” OCA Mocha began with funding from partners such as the university, the Student Government Association and private donations, Mason elaborated. Now, the funding is “secured through a partnership with a private enterprise.”
Although the OCA Mocha team has faced setbacks in its opening, the project has provided a useful learning experience to the students involved. “Learning has been at the forefront of everything the students have accomplished,” Mason said.