New bookstore, Cuppa Tahoe, set to open Saturday on South Shore

Cheyanne Neuffer

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Sandra Santané has been kept up at night trying to figure out how to open her new business during a global pandemic.

Cuppa Tahoe, a quaint bookstore with coffee, tea, small bites and many surprises, was supposed to open in February but the coronavirus changed everything.

“I am trying to solve this puzzle and 50% the pieces don’t fit,” she said a couple of weeks ago.

But while facing the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, she has figured out the riddle and will open her doors Saturday morning at the “Y” in South Lake Tahoe.

Santané grew up in the Netherlands, later moved to France and eventually came into the United States, the Bay Area specifically. She and her husband would visit Lake Tahoe for just about every holiday and time off to escape the increasingly crowded bay.

Realizing they were spending about half their time at the lake, they decided to move permanently and bought a cabin in the Tahoe Sierra neighborhood.

“We’ve never regretted that decision,” she said, and added that she loves being part of the mountain community.

Raised by a single-mother and faced with a challenging upbringing, Santané found her escape through books.

Books offered a sense of adventure, magic and a happy ending. She found luxury in bookstores and cafés.

In Holland, where she grew up, a lot of time was spent indoors. Living spaces were small so her and her friends would meet in cafés where they would play board games, socialize, sip on drinks like coffee and tea, and get small snacks. These cafés were where collaboration, connections and ideas sprouted.

Santané felt this special experience was missing from Tahoe which soon inspired the idea of Cuppa Tahoe.

She said that while there are ebooks and Kindles, there is a special connection when you have a physical object.

“It’s magic,” she said.

Magic seems to be a common theme for this unique bookstore. It is intertwined in the stories of the books and within the enchanting and intimate design of the shop.

Santané is humble about her interior design talents that are expressed through every inch of her store.

She grew up with the influence of several different cultures, including Tanzania which inspired her “magical door” that stands above the kids corner. It’s antique and gives the feeling of stepping into another world.

Cuppa has several nooks and Santané said she designed each nook as a sacred place for people to just “be.”

For those who want to read a book while enjoying a cup of coffee, Cuppa has “read me” shelves that include the classics and the latest novels. In front of the fire on a funky green velvet couch, she created a cozy space to unwind and get lost in a story.

While Cuppa has elements of unwinding, Santané also created a place to work, casually. Her “Casual Coworking” space has two large shared working desks with two standing tables.

The room is complete with a water feature by Alpine Metal and a massive living wall. The air smells clean and fresh intentionally designed for “exciting fluid energy.” The coworking area mimics space for people who want a creative place to work or study without feeling the guilt of taking up a table at a coffee shop for hours. The coworking space will be free for the first month after opening.

Cuppa also has conference booths and a conference room that seats nearly 10-12 people.

“It has more of an office feel, but also fun enough to have a book club meeting,” she said.

The room has a massive wooden roots table that sits below a chandelier.

Both spaces will also be used for workshops like coffee tastings or makers workshops.

In support of local nonprofits, Santané plans to let nonprofits meet in the conference room or coworking space free of charge in the evenings.

Through CASA Child Advocacy, she will offer space for volunteers to meet up with children in need. Santané has been part of CASA and it is close to her heart so creating a space where these children can unwind with the magic of books and a treat was very important to her.

Cuppa will also have a coffee and tea bar with small bites. She will offer Art of Tea’s organic high-quality teas out of Los Angeles, local Refuge coffee by Jared Marquez and popsicles by Tahoe Pops. Small bites will be from Cake Lady Tahoe. The menu will rotate with the season and she will always offer something gluten-free or vegan.

While Cuppa is ready to open, the pandemic originally halted everything.

Since curbside isn’t financially applicable for a new business, Santané has had to wait until she can fully open doors to the public. Cuppa did not qualify for any government aid and with this being her family’s investment, she has had to time the opening just right.

She’s had to get creative with her budget.

Her 20 hours of planned training for her employees had to be reduced to about 2 or 3.

“I have to be smart about when to pull the trigger,” she said. “This is completely unprecedented.

No one knows what’s going to happen.”

Since she hadn’t officially hired any employees, she didn’t have to lay off anyone or cut hours.

She extended her offer to proposed employees and prioritized those who couldn’t collect unemployment for hiring. Since her proposed manager is on limited hours, Santané has been working out the kinks by herself.

She plans to have social-distancing guidelines placed at the door that include sanitation and even optional plexi-glass walls to create a barrier between people.

While the bookstore opens on Saturday, the coworking space and conference room will open in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan.

Santané said it has been hard to stay positive with all the unknowns right now, but is optimistic about Cuppa.

“Community and that magic is what we need even more right now,” she said. “I am trying to make it work and get to the finish line.”

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