No Power? No Problem. Grab Some Coffee and News.
Feb. 26, 2021
A year ago Max Kabat and Maisie Crow were featured in the New York Times after purchasing two West Texas newspapers, including the Big Bend Sentinel, and opening a cafe and cocktail bar in the middle of the town of Marfa.
A lot — and I mean A LOT — has happened in the year since that article was published. That includes some terrible things, like a global pandemic that has caused turmoil for the newspaper and service industries (and humankind in general). But some great things have happened, too, like the premiere screening of Crow’s documentary film, “At the Ready,” last month at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
A few weeks after that screening, however, the couple was forced to meet yet another challenge head on — a rare Texas winter storm that knocked out power to a large portion of the state.
Marfa, which is in the high desert of West Texas, is prone to significant temperature drops overnight, but that’s nothing like the sustained below-freezing cold front that swooped in Valentine’s Day weekend.
A significant portion of Marfa lost power. That meant no heat for many who live in homes that aren’t well insulated. It also spelled trouble for those with electric stoves and hot water heaters. It also meant no high-speed internet. On top of that, cell phone service also was knocked out for the major carrier in the area, making it extremely difficult for people to get life-saving information.
That’s when Crow, Kabat and their teams at the newspaper and the cafe went into action.
“We thought, ‘How can we do this? What does the community need right now?’ Kabat said. “People need warmth, smiles, and they need to know that others are going through the same thing.”
The cafe didn’t have power, but it did have a gas stove. All of the food there had to be used right away or else it would spoil. So the cooking (and coffee making) commenced. They offered it up to everyone in town. Pay what you want, or don’t pay at all. The community was grateful.
Meanwhile, Crow, Kabat and the newspaper staff had to find a way to cover the storm and its aftermath, both online and in print. They found a friend of a friend in town whose house still had power and internet, so they packed up their computers and made that the newspaper’s new headquarters for a few days.
They were able to produce the first half of that week’s paper there. They drove around town, when it was safe, to talk to officials and residents, but the roads were not good.
Eventually, ground zero for the newspaper transitioned to the local school, which was also ground zero for residents since it still had power. The school was turned into a warming station for the community. Local grocery stores donated food that was turned into free meals for anyone who could make it there. It was also a hub for information, both from officials and the Sentinel staff.
Speaking of the newspaper, the staff turned the teachers’ lounge into a makeshift newsroom and was able to update the website from there and finish putting together that week’s print edition.
Did they meet their print deadline? You bet. And remarkably, the printing company they use still had power, so in between snowstorms Kabat made the 2.5-hour trip to the press in his 4×4 to pick up the papers, drove them 2.5 hours back to Marfa, stuffed them and started making deliveries. Those who receive the paper via the postal service might have received the paper a little later than usual, but Kabat said the Sentinel was the only paper in the region that was delivered that week.
“It took a little longer to get it to some places,” Kabat said, “but people expect it.”
Kabat said he was glad the newspaper and the cafe was able to be there when the community needed them the most. And he knows how important the community is for them.
“We need them as much as they need us,” he said.