Carmel Clay Public Library director explains decision to replace library café


Carmel Clay Public Library Director Bob Swanay is standing by his decision to replace Monon Coffee & Sweets with SoHo Café.

The December 2018 announcement drew criticism from some Carmel residents who questioned the ethics of the library entering a business partnership with CCPL Foundation board member Vivian Lawhead, who owns SoHo Café. Lawhead, a former Carmel Clay Schools librarian, stepped down from the foundation board Jan. 11. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The CCPL Foundation board is separate from the library’s board of directors. The foundation primarily exists to raise financial support for library programs. Swanay said he knew Lawhead was on the foundation board when he approached her about the opportunity but that he “concluded it was a nonfactor.”

“There is no intersection with the foundation and the running of the library,” Swanay said. “The foundation doesn’t make any decisions that could possibly affect the café space or any other space in the library, so I concluded this wasn’t an issue. That’s why it wasn’t in the forefront of my thoughts.”

Swanay publicly posted a letter online Jan. 24 that outlined reasons for the café change. He stated partnering with SoHo will help the library meet objectives of its 2017-19 strategic plan by turning the café into a “community destination” for residents to participate in programming, book discussion groups and more.

“Knowing SoHo Café & Gallery’s ownership’s experience developing this type of atmosphere and commitment to the library and arts led me to approach them about their potential interest in enhancing the café experience at our library,” Swanay stated in the letter.

The decision to partner with SoHo is among many bigger changes in the works, including a new branch on the city’s west side, increased offerings at the Digital Media Lab and renovating existing space.

The Carmel Redevelopment Commission has had discussions with the library about its renovation project and how it will affect the city’s master planning around the 4th Avenue and Main Street area, but CRC Director Henry Mestetsky said the library café was never a part of those talks.

“There wasn’t a single reference or inference throughout the CRC’s Monon Square negotiations related to the library or a SoHo Café there,” he said. “I learned about SoHo moving to the library on social media like everyone else.”

The announcement to bring SoHo Café to the library came less than two months after the Carmel City Council approved the CRC’s $15 million purchase of Monon Square, an aging shopping center owned by Lawhead at Range Line Road and City Center Drive, that is home to the original Soho Café. Swanay said SoHo’s library cafe, which is approximately 100 square feet, is not intended to replace the original location.