Kyle, SD — They fell in love while snowed in six years ago in the Black Hills and discovered they shared deeply held beliefs about caring for the natural world and the human community. Patricia Hammond, Oglala, and Jason Schoch also found they had complementary skills that were just right for founding the cutest little café in the West, Old West Gypsy Market & Espresso six miles west of Kyle, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
It also helps that the couple brew a fantastic cup of coffee, including a do-not-miss sweet-earthy chokecherry cappuccino.
The operation is a combination coffee shop, gift shop and gallery that opened October 12. Hammond and Schoch sank all their savings into it, along with a loan from Lakota Funds, the local community development financial institution. The “gypsy” in the store’s name comes from their hobby of trolling thrift stores for antiques and other one-of-a-kind items.
Hammond and Schoch, who also do contract work for Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots community-gardening program, have just launched their website (oldwestgypsy.com) and are busy photographing the many creative products they have for sale. “Our business is so new—we’re in our infancy,” laughed Hammond.
She’s from Pine Ridge and spent years doing community work—creating multipurpose gardens that she used to teach kids math, science, and entrepreneurship, while beautifying local villages and producing food for people who needed it. Schoch brought his retail experience running a Barnes and Noble store and working in an art gallery to the shop, setting it up so the eye lights on a succession of unusual items.
A pale cup and saucer, crafted of translucent, striated stone, sits among bags of fair-trade coffee produced by indigenous growers in Guatemala and Tanzania. Paintings add color to a display of baked goods. Piles of sparkly geodes share a shelf with aromatic sweetgrass braids and bundles of sage. A basket of water-buffalo-horn serving spoons rests in a corner, near jewel-like arrays of chokecherry preserves, salsas, homemade pickles and other goodies.
They keep their prices as low as possible. They don’t want to make a killing, they say. “We could probably raise prices, but we want local people to have good experiences and taste, see and buy things they haven’t been able to find on the reservation until now,” said Hammond.
The café joins a lineup of inventive new Pine Ridge operations, including the reservation’s first movie theater and a millwork shop. Most customers are local. However, tour buses and guests at nearby Lakota Prairie Ranch Resort also stop by, and Hammond and Schoch will work with the state’s tourism department to encourage this. World-famous Badlands National Park, a few miles to the north, offers more possibilities, and Pine Ridge’s Oglala Sioux Tribe is developing the southern section of the Badlands as a joint tribal-national park, which will bring more tourist dollars to Kyle.
To help visitors find their way around, the couple is planning a map of local attractions. “Tourists often say to us, ‘We’re here on Pine Ridge, what can we do in a day?’” said Schoch. “If they have a map, they’ll know where to go and will be more comfortable.”
The café acts as an incubator for yet more creative enterprises. Schoch points out some used books. “That shelf of books is like a seed. They’re for sale, but we also hope someone will look around our café, be inspired and say, hey, I could open a used-book store—or a bead shop or an art gallery or a bakery,” he says. “Why not? It wouldn’t be competition. The more businesses we have in this area, the more customers will be drawn here.”
Technology is a boon for a small reservation business, Schoch said. Simple means of taking credit cards via inexpensive readers increase income. “We’ve doubled our income by taking credit cards. Using technology, people in close-knit reservation communities can also more easily work at home,” he said. “You can be a graphic artist and still live here.”
To encourage entrepreneurship, which Hammond and Schoch said is key to the reservation’s growing economy, they offer workshops and information to would-be businesspeople, explaining the paperwork needed to start nonprofit and for-profit enterprises. Next to the café are three outdoor market stalls. Next year, throughout the warm weather farmers selling produce, artisans selling crafts and others will use them. The couple are also still developing community gardens through their separate nonprofit entity, Can Wigmunke, or Rainbow Tree, which is supported by Running Strong for Native American Youth, among others.
It’s about building community, said Hammond. “Anything and everything can grow here on Pine Ridge."