Is this the last remnant of Beaner’s Coffee in Lansing?

Nonprofit eyes aging commercial mural for new memorial

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THURSDAY, Oct. 7 — A brick wall overlooking Grand Avenue in downtown Lansing may be home to the last remnant of a bygone era of offensively named coffee shops, back when commercial artwork was popular and when Biggby Coffee was still going by the name Beaner’s.

But perhaps not for long.

Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, like many others who commute through or work in downtown Lansing, said he drives by the large Beaner’s Coffee advertisement painted near the corner of Grand Avenue and Kalamazoo Street almost daily.

“I always think ‘hmm,’” Castanier said. “It’s really a remnant of an era that has quietly moved on. I do like commercial murals. A lot of them have been and should be preserved. And I may be an outlier here, but this just isn’t one of them. This hasn’t reached a level of historical significance.”

Castanier said he’s not aware of another Beaner’s sign still standing anywhere else in the state. But that doesn’t mean that it necessarily needs to stay up for the sake of history, he explained.

“It’s probably more offensive as time goes on. People will lose that historical context,” he said.

In 2007, the Beaner’s Coffee (which launched in East Lansing) announced plans to spend about $1 million to rebrand all 79 of its stores to Biggby Coffee over the use of the word “beaner” as a disparaging term against Hispanic Americans. Co-founder Bob Fish had said as the company expanded, frequent comments on the name forced him to “take a hard look at changing it.”

Castanier, who was contracted to do public relations work for Biggby during the transition, said the biggest motivation in changing the name was a desire to attract Hispanic franchise owners.

“We ultimately felt we would be condoning the use of a disparaging term if we chose to do nothing,” Fish said in a release. And with that, Beaner’s Coffee was no more — except here.

What could be the last remaining signage from the old namesake still adorns the eastern wall of the top two floors of Witte Law Offices on Kalamazoo Street, advertising what used to be three coffeehouse locations in downtown Lansing. The paint is peeling, but passing drivers and pedestrians can still make out the phrase “Beaner’s Gourmet Coffee” below the “Biggby logo.

Owner Norm Witte said he doesn’t see anything offensive with the sign because the company didn’t have any “racist intent” behind the original name. That said, he’d still love to see it gone.

So, he’s offering the space up to his next door neighbor, Michael McKissic, for a fresh paint job.

McKissic runs the Mikey 23 Foundation, a nonprofit he launched after his son’s murder that centers on youth mentorship with a goal of preventing others from meeting a similar fate. He plans to recruit local artists to paint over the sign next year. The plan:create an artistic tribute for the more than 80 people killed in unsolved murder cases over the few decades in Lansing.

Because of the cooler weather quickly approaching, McKissic said it’ll have to wait until spring.

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Bob Ginther

How can you learn from history if you erase it? I have no problem with libs being libs, but look what our Country has become under that banner. We were energy independent---not anymore. We used to love one another-------not now. We are told to judge by skin color through CRT. We didn't have inflation---now we do. Unemployment of those we say we care about was at an all time low------ now it's much worse. You judge by actions, not words. History will repeat itself & we'll all be damned. It won't matter when you say "I'm sorry". Not when we live in camps; do what we're told; live like we're forced to. What has happened to America is the product of not studying & remembering what we did right & wrong. Think all the chants at games & big venues are because we're going in the right direction? You're an idiot if you do. Don't drink the "coolaid". It's pure poison for America. Study history & learn. Everyone hated one man with "orange" skin. Isn't that racist? Wake up dummies. The commies have you now & they're not going to let go.

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