Ayer coffee shop owner battles landlord over “lives” messages

Owners of local business and landlord where business housed clash over movements

Union Coffee Roaster in Ayer showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement by posting a sign next to its outdoor menu and in its window
Union Coffee Roaster in Ayer showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement by posting a sign next to its outdoor menu and in its window

AYER — Driving down Main Street for a cup of coffee or a pastry, it was easy to notice a Black Lives Matter sign in the window of the Union Coffee Roaster.

Earlier this summer, it was also easy to notice a Blue Lives Matter sign hanging inside the hallway leading to the same coffee shop.

If that confused customers, imagine what it did to the owners of the business and the property.

The popular coffee shop, located on the corner of Main and Washington Street, acknowledged the Blue Lives Matter sign in a Facebook post on Aug. 11 after customers noted it conflicted with the Black Lives Matter sign posted in the store’s window.

The post said the shop “did not have a part” in hanging the Blue Lives Matter sign and that the store does not align with the movement “personally or professionally.”

“The reason we have a problem with this sign is simple: ‘Blue Lives’ don’t exist,” the post read. “Nobody is born a police officer. Being a police officer is not an inherent identity. It’s a career one chooses. It’s not a social identity. It’s a job. A black person does not stop being black when their shift is over. Blue Lives Matter is a counter-movement to Black Lives Matter. It’s meant to silence the BLM movement; cancel it out, snuff it out. Silence it. We won’t be silent on this at Union Coffee Roaster. We will be on the right of history.”

Keith Leighton, the landlord, confirmed over the phone earlier this month that he put up the Blue Lives Matter sign but eventually took it down. When asked why he put the signs up, the phone call disconnected and Leighton did not return follow-up calls for further comment at the time. Leighton said this week he was available for a follow-up interview sometime before next week.

Carrie Medley, owner of Union Coffee, said she put up the Black Lives Matter sign in late June after teenagers hosted a rally for the movement that she and staff attended.

Dan Hillier, a supervisor at Union Coffee, added that the idea for putting up the sign later came up in a conversation with Medley.

“Carrie brought it up and we agreed,” Hillier said. “As soon as the protests started gearing up, we talked to each other about it. Everyone was on the same page right from the beginning. We have a very good platform for the community plus great real estate. Everyone can see this corner.”

According to Medley, the Blue Lives Matter sign was up in the hallway for about a month and a half from July to early August.

“I wasn’t really trying to start anything with him, but then he went ahead and asked me to take the BLM sign down, and told me he could have his lawyer make me do it,” Medley said. “I told him I wasn’t compromising on my support of this racially charged social-justice movement. He said it was political because people associate it with (Joe) Biden’s run for president, which is completely untrue.”

As for the Black Lives Matter sign, Hillier said the store has received “mostly positive” feedback from the posting. It’s hard to miss for customers since Union Coffee hasn’t been letting customers in its store since April, instead taking orders and serving customers through its front windows to prevent new potential coronavirus cases.

“We’re on good terms now, and I’m not taking the sign down,” Medley added. “The community has been amazing in supporting us.”

Ayer Police Chief William Murray said earlier this month that while he was not aware of the disagreement between the store and its landlord, he did read the Facebook post Union Coffee made explaining its stance on the contrasting social movements. Murray said the business is “entitled to their opinion” and offered no further comment.

Many of Union Coffee’s neighbors on Main Street expressed support for the store speaking its mind about social issues. Cheryl Wilber, who owns Pampered Pets, said she has “no problem” with the Black Lives Matter sign and was surprised Leighton counteracted that sign with the Blue Lives Matter sign.

“If they’re paying their rent, they should be able to put whatever they want in the window as long as it’s appropriate,” Wilber said. “I know there are people deciding that Black Lives Matter is OK and others going, ‘Why doesn’t everyone matter?’ I don’t get involved in that, but I do think that black people have been treated unfairly in certain situations.”

Kellie Porter, owner of the K. Porter and Company salon, called the Union Coffee’s use of the Black Lives Matter sign “wonderful” and heard similar sentiments from her own customers.

“As far as the police, there’s no hatred towards them,” Porter said. “But it is time for the police to be held accountable for officers abusing and hurting people of color. My salon is a safe spot regardless of color or race.”

The owner of Mary’s Beauty Salon, who wished not to be named, said she believes all lives matter in that people of all races needed to unite to prevent further violence and injustice. She also expressed hesitation in taking a similar stance as Union Coffee because of her own race.

“If I put a Black Lives Matter sign in my window, anyone who doesn’t like the sign will break my window,” she said. “I came here from Ethiopia, but I got married and I’m a good taxpayer. Don’t look down on me because I’m black. Don’t kill black people like animals. If we don’t solve the problem together, we’ll still be fighting with each other.”