Penny’s: Coffee and Community

Written by Marcella Brylski

When the temperatures dropped to historic lows in Hillsdale recently, a frigid -15 degrees with wind chills as low as -35 degrees, the usually bustling life on campus slowed to a glacial crawl. While the cold caused classes to be canceled for the day, it did not keep students from coming out in droves to Hillsdale College’s newest hangout, Penny’s. The airy, high-ceilinged space has a refreshingly clean and modern vibe, with its light-gray walls and copper tabletops. The bright, cozy interior includes friendly student baristas who chat with customers as they create espresso drinks and steep loose-leaf tea behind high, marble countertops. Penny’s, which occupies part of the ground floor of the newest women’s residence on campus, has become a popular gathering place for students to do homework, meet friends, and host events.

And it’s no wonder: Penny’s has been fashioned from the beginning as an operation for students, and largely by students. Headed up by a recent alumna (Emily Barnum, ’18), Penny’s involves students in its daily operations in many ways. Not only is Penny’s staffed by upperclassmen, many of whom are residents of the dorm, but it also displays student artwork and hosts a wide range of events organized by students. These events include everything from Serenade Saturdays, which are monthly coffeehouse-style concerts put on by one of the music fraternities on campus, to a painting contest (“Penny’s and Painting”), which provided some of the student art for the walls. The coffee shop has even hosted a dating advice talk for the women on campus featuring one of the College’s art professors.

Penny’s has cultivated a more organic student culture, one that stems from the community of women who live in the women’s residence with which the coffee shop shares a building. I remember discovering this aspect of the community at Penny’s on a sunny morning in the middle of fall semester. I had come into Penny’s to do my Greek homework, drawn in part by the fantastic coffee, in part by the sunny space, and maybe just a little bit by the coffee shop’s weekly promotion—Donut Wednesday—where they sell donuts from a local bakery for a dollar. When I walked in that morning, I was greeted by the alternately lively and somber tones of bagpipes. In conjunction with Donut Wednesday, I discovered that a couple of students had started a tradition of hanging out together in Penny’s on Wednesday mornings and exploring music from a different part of the world, a tradition they called “World Wednesday.” Not only did this make my day, since the music (not all bagpipes) and the sense of community filled the space with life, but I think it is a testament to the rich student culture that Penny’s, though less than a year old, has already started to foster on Hillsdale’s campus. And with events like World Wednesday to give it life, it seems that Penny’s will continue to hold a unique place on campus for a long time to come.


Marcella Brylski, ’20, grew up in the great state of Minnesota, where she learned to love sunny fall days and distance running along the Mississippi River. She studies English and Greek at Hillsdale and takes great joy in unexpected conversations with friends, discovering contemporary poets, and unearthing treasures at the local thrift store.


Published in September 2019