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EL SERENO, Calif.-The marriage of a coffee shop with a branch of Cal State L.A. FCU is percolating just fine, according to the CU.

On Jan. 1, Xocolatl Cacao Tea and Coffeehouse held its grand opening in part of a building leased by the credit union. The coffee shop is operated as a fundraiser by a local charter school, and the school pays part of the rent.

Juan Carlos Ortega, assistant branch manager at the location, said sharing space with the coffee shop "has helped tremendously."

"Every time people come by we let them know about the credit union," he said. "When we are not busy we go into the coffee shop and mingle with these future members."

Connie Smith, the credit union's CEO, said the relationship with the coffee shop has opened up doors in the community.

"We do a lot of things together, including promoting workshops on student lending and teaching school-age children how to save money," she said, noting the CU sells a local business discount card and there are discussions underway to hold a farmer's market in the parking lot on Saturdays.

"Has the coffee shop led to people busting down our door? No. It has not happened as quickly as we projected it would, but we have had a lot of positive interactions so we think it is a matter of getting out there and making our presence known," Smith said. "The numbers are not bad, just not as high as we projected. It has been an outstanding thing for the credit union, but it will take more of a marketing effort for people to understand who we are. Overall it is a great thing to have the coffee shop, and the rent doesn't hurt, either."

Getting To Be In The Know

Kristina Hooper, Cal State L.A. FCU's marketing manager, said the relationship with the coffee shop "has helped in many ways," including knowing when events in the community are going to take place. "It is a good location right on the main drag, Huntington Drive, but it does not lead to a lot of walk-in traffic, other than for the coffee shop. They haven't had a credit union in the neighborhood before so they aren't sure about us."

Added Ortega, "because of the link between the coffee shop and the charter school people at the school know about us now. We are starting to see teachers coming in and opening accounts through word of mouth. Every transaction with us we give a receipt that gives a 20% discount in the coffee shop."

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