Skateboards are still taboo.
But patrons of the Billings Public Library that opened on Monday can eat and drink, within reason, in the modernistic building.
And, for the first time, they can buy custom coffees, soup, sandwiches, candies and homemade fudge at the library’s in-house cafe. Locally owned Sweet Cafe in Billings Heights won the five-year contract to serve food and drinks just inside the north entrance.
“I’m already loving the people here. We hope we can extend this contract beyond five years,” said owner Tanya Weinreis.
She and her husband, Shane Weinreis, opened the original Sweet Cafe at 595 Main St., more than a year ago.
Last spring, a friend who works with Friends of the Library, told the couple they should submit a bid to run the library cafe.
Their bid was one of several, said Library Director Bill Cochran.
“They put in a knock-your-socks-off business plan and they’re local, which was perfect,” he said.
The two Sweet Cafes now employs 10 people, including local barista Scott Miller, who was serving up coffee and foam at the library on Monday.
Sweet Cafe has teamed up with two other Heights businesses to serve the library crowd: sandwiches from the Off Main Street Deli and baked goods from the Dancing Oven Bakery.
The cafe also has a full juice bar, including protein shakes, an offering that likely will be added to the Heights store soon, Tanya Weinreis said.
Bookcases along the cafe walls will be stocked with for-sale books that were donated to Friends of the Library.
But there will be no food free-for-alls amid the book stacks.
People can carry covered, spill-resistant drinks around the library, except for the Montana, genealogy or digitaztion rooms or any computer areas, Cochran said. Food must remain in the first-floor cafe area or adjacent concrete floor spaces and the meeting rooms.
Tanya Weinreis used to own Peggy Sue’s, a coffee kiosk and roasting business her mother started in 1996. One Sweet Cafe blend named after Billings features a photo of the Rimrocks.
“We might blend more coffee and name it after the library,” she said.
The literary traffic projections look promising.
The old library to the south, which is destined for the wrecking ball, attracted an average of 1,200 visitors per day and jumped to 3,000 visitors on some summer reading days, Cochran said.
If the new Billings library matches the growth seen at new libraries in Bozeman; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; attendance should increase by 38 percent.
“There might be 350,000 to half a million visitors a year. It might be more,” Cochran said. “It’s a cool building.”
Library patrons have been asking for an in-house cafe for years, he said.
The cafe will be open for most of the library’s hours, at least to start, Tanya Weinreis said.
But library cafes in Bozeman and Cheyenne have struggled, Cochran said, apparently because they were required to stay open every hour the library was open.
After seeing those regional results, local library planners decided to be flexible.
The contract with Sweet Cafe allows employees to close a metal chain curtain when business is slow, as long as the business is open about 40 hours a week out of the library’s 63-hour schedule.
“We’re not going to get rich, but we want them to succeed as a business,” Cochran said.