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A coffee shop brews up the feel of home

Stephanie Pontillo, from left, proprietors of Sip This,

Stephanie Pontillo, from left, proprietors of Sip This, a coffee shop in Valley Stream, serves coffee to patrons, Ava Ziegler and Judi Mazkuriewicz of Valley Stream, on Dec. 19, 2019. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

I walk up to a storefront window displaying a rusted bike and mannequin dressed up to go for a ride, and walk into my favorite coffee shop, Sip This, on Rockaway Avenue in Valley Stream.

To the left are shelves packed with books. A sign says, “Take One.” To the right, three teens share the love seat in the blue alcove, staring at a laptop and laughing hysterically. A fourth seated nearby eyes chocolate and vanilla gelato and homemade cookies in the refrigerated display case. Behind it is a community bulletin board with newspaper clippings. “Valley Stream Remembers 9/11,” a headline says. And there are service offerings: “Math tutoring available.”

Farther back, a bookcase holds board games, and a beat-up but tuned upright piano waits for a player. Bands jam here weekly, and poets, comedians and drag artists perform on open-mic nights. You can watch a magic show or read your poetry to fellow writers. Or you can enlist a team to play in the fiercely competitive trivia nights. Artwork by local painters and photographers hangs on the white walls. Handmade fixtures and paper lanterns light up the eclectic seating.

Sip This has been here since 2011. The co-owners, Stephanie Pontillo and David Sabatino, grew up in Valley Stream. Stephanie got the entrepreneurial bug from her father, who opened his own business when he was in his twenties. She and David loved the coffee shops they found in college towns and decided to make one in their home community, creating a safe, welcoming space for everyone. The shop injects color and an upbeat atmosphere into Rockaway Avenue.

When I visit, I scan the prices for the day’s specials written in chalk on a blackboard behind the cash register. I order my usual, a nonfat latte, to stay. Why would I go anywhere else when I can sit in a comfortable chair, pretend to work on my iPad and eavesdrop on the engaging cast of customers and staff?

On any given day, there are singletons, earbuds in place, hunched over laptops. Sometimes that’s me, finishing a project or writing a story.

Pairs of women catch up on each other’s lives, barely listening to each other but sharing their stories with everyone within 10 feet. Students work on group projects. Neighborhood shop owners break for lunch. A mom and her toddler share French toast.

I love watching the staff. When he’s not making egg cups or avocado toast, Anthony Natoli, his brown curly hair in a ponytail, is a musician who tours with the John Nolan Band, a rock group. Jen Laxton, a manager, has a degree in culinary arts. Brandon Serrado, a business major at LIU Post, rocks a Maximum Crush T-shirt. Sydney Diaz, an actor, has a small role in an upcoming Ghostbusers movie, "Afterlife." Diaz makes a mean cappuccino.

Every community needs a spot where kids can hang out, groups can meet, and young people can work while they decide what their next steps in life will be. Every town needs a place that celebrates community. For Valley Stream, that place is Sip This. We are lucky to have it.

Reader Susan Lee Miller lives in Valley Stream.

Clarification: In an earlier version of this essay, the writer included an incorrect pronoun for Sydney Diaz. The essay has been updated.

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