After 16 years, Hopkins' Depot Coffee House remains a mainstay for young people

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT  , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2014 - 12:53 PM

After 16 years, the youth-run Depot Coffee House in Hopkins continues to be a mainstay for young people, a place to grow creatively and personally.

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At open mic night at the Depot Coffee House near downtown Hopkins, Matt Palmquist went to town on his alto saxophone.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii , Star Tribune

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Amarr Jacox-Rowe, a senior at Transition Plus school in St. Louis Park, finds that writing poetry helps him to channel his emotions.

Several years ago, he worked up the courage to read his works at an open mic night at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins. Since then, he’s returned many times and has discovered an audience for his writing.

“People would come up to me afterward and say, ‘Hey, that one poem hit home for me,’ ” he said after a reading last Tuesday, as a saxophone player took the stage.

That has motivated him to improve his writing, to make it tighter and more relatable.

That kind of experience is part of what the youth-run Depot offers, he said; it’s a place to try out new work or to experiment with one’s art form.

Jacox-Rowe attributes that to an open, supportive atmosphere. “A guitarist got off the stage a moment ago and the sound guy said, ‘Welcome to the family,’ ” he said. “If you need the support or to refresh your roots or just want to have fun, this is the environment to do it.”

A coffee shop that doubles as an entertainment venue and trailhead, the Depot is a place to sit and study or to take in a show or simply to pick up a bike part. It opened in a vintage train depot in 1998 as a chemical-free hangout for youth.

The Depot hosts concerts, open mic nights, film screenings, art shows and other special events. Through the years, it has nurtured talents of all stripes, onstage and off.

A board made up of 10 students and one adult makes decisions about Depot goings-on, said Ted Duepner, a project coordinator and longtime Depot employee.

“I’ve been able to work with students who elevate what the Depot does,” he said. “There have been some real challenges. Most are very worthwhile. There are always places where we could do more or do better.”

Board members work as baristas. For most of them, it’s their first job. “It’s a nice way to get a 360-degree view of how the Depot works,” which helps them to own it, Duepner said.

“When a student says, ‘I just really wish we could do this,’ they’re so used to hearing no, they think it’s complicated,” but he’s all for giving them a shot at planning an event or whatever the project may be.

The place fills a void, particularly in the local music scene, as fewer and fewer venues are producing all-ages shows because they’re not profitable enough, Duepner said.

Music wasn’t the original focus of the Depot, but it became apparent early on that “it brings in the most youth and it sustains the programming side,” he said.

A number of musicians who played at the Depot early in their careers have become big names. Artists like John Mark Nelson, Kristoff Krane, Desdamona, Carnage and Toussaint Morrison have all performed there, Duepner said.

Developing skills, talents

Depot board chair Alex R. Sigmundik, a Blake High School senior, started hanging out there as a seventh-grader.

Part of what he likes is its “relaxed atmosphere where everyone can be accepted,” he said. It “allows for so many different types of expression and art and social interaction.”

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