A coffee shop with charity on the menu

By Sarah Mitchell

Beyond the cozy interior, warm drinks and calming atmosphere, Vintage Soul is a shop that offers more than meets eye.

Located on Illinois Avenue, it is Carbondale’s first store to offer fair-trade coffee — coffee that is purchased directly from the growers — and used furniture under one roof. And 50 percent of the shop’s net profits go to charity said Justin Zurlinden, the shop’s owner.

Zurlinden, of Carbondale, said he and a few friends from the university’s InterVarsity chapter, a Christian fellowship organization on campus, began brainstorming ways to raise funds for the non-profit ministry Ekklesia when he was finishing his bachelor’s degree in architecture and preparing for graduate school.


Ekklesia distributes funds among several local charities, including the Homeless Ministry, which provides local homeless community with food and clothing.

“If we owned this business in Carbondale where people could get coffee, study, hang out, do Bible study … and we could also sell furniture to students who need it, that would be really cool,” he said.

Zurlinden said Carbondale’s lack of used furniture stores inspired him to incorporate selling furniture into his idea for the coffee shop.

“The café you need for a coffee shop and the showroom area you need for a furniture store can be the same,” he said.

Zurlinden said his goal became a reality last May when he rented a storage unit and began filling it with used furniture. He said he did not expect to start the business until he finished graduate school, but the storage unit filled up so quickly that he decided the idea was attainable.

“I turned in my (graduate school) resignation in October saying I would be done in December, and we’ve been going full-speed ever since,” he said with a smile.

Zurlinden said most of the store’s furniture is from auctions, as well as local churches such as Grand Avenue in Carbondale and Christ Community Church in Murphysboro, which held furniture drives and donated to Vintage Soul.

“We’ll pick some stuff up, and we’ll end up refurbishing or repainting it and turning around and selling it for a profit,” he said.

Vintage Soul is powered entirely by volunteers who work a few three-hour shifts per week. Zurlinden said most of the volunteers are InterVarsity members, but there are also community members and people from churches who are interested in the shop’s mission.

Greg Gierling, a junior from Crete studying physical education, met Zurlinden when they both worked as resident assistants in Schneider Hall last year, and now they volunteer together at Vintage Soul. Gierling said he has always supported Zurlinden’s goal to make the shop a reality because they are close friends.

“We run around all day on weekends cleaning, going to auctions and promoting … so it’s exciting to actually see it come together,” he said. “I just want to see more people here.”

Zurlinden said a woman came into the shop earlier this week to buy coffee and learned about the shop’s charity work. He said the woman went home after talking with him for awhile and returned with large bags full of socks, hats and blankets to donate to the Homeless Ministry.

That encounter alone is reason enough to keep Vintage Soul running, he said.

“If (we) don’t make money, this is still a conduit where people can learn and understand about the different ministries in Carbondale,” Zurlinden said. “Without Vintage, she wouldn’t have had that connection. We can really get out what the needs of the people in Carbondale are.”

Zurlinden said the Homeless Ministry is important to him because homelessness is a relevant problem in the area that many people overlook. He said it is an issue that students can help solve because it is local.

“There are homeless people on the strip,” he said. “So being a business on the strip that is geared toward … helping people on the strip who are homeless is really cool. We get to know them so we can really understand their needs instead of just dropping off a bucket of chicken and walking away.”

As a first-time business owner, Zurlinden said he needed assistance in bringing the shop to life.

Meghan Cole, director of the Carbondale Main Street revitalization program, which aims to promote and support downtown business, said the program donated paint for the shop’s interior walls.

“We’re glad to have them in the downtown business,” she said. “We will continue to help and support them.”

Zurlinden said although he has not gotten much sleep during the shop’s first week, the work has been rewarding.

“It’s been more exciting than stressful,” he said. “I’m excited to walk in and see it packed, and see people chilling and studying everywhere.”

Zurlinden said he thinks people will want to come back once they pay a visit to the shop.

“Your cup of coffee has a lot to it,” he said. “Your coffee holds a lot of weight, not just because it’s good, but because you want to help people.”