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Sale fails — so Tillie’s will bail

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Tillie’s, a beloved Fort Greene coffee shop and bohemian stomping ground, will serve its final cup on Dec. 31 — breaking hearts and reducing caffeine levels across the neighborhood.

Patricia Mulcahy, who opened the scrappy café on DeKalb Avenue 14 years ago, said that she’s shutting down because her landlord Danny Browne wants more in rent.

“We haven’t gotten rich doing this, that’s for sure,” she said. “But being in the neighborhood has been a joy, and we’re very sad to leave our customers.”

Local sippers were jolted in October, when Mulcahy and co-owner Amos Yogev listed their star-crossed shop for sale for $189,000. Several potential buyers came forward, but Browne wasn’t on board with any of them.

“It’s very sad and not what we had hoped for,” Mulcahy said. “But I don’t think we’re going to be the last ones to fall prey to rising rents.”

She said she had no hard feelings with Browne, who said that he was sad to see Tillie’s go, but that “in this economic market, rent increases are inevitable.”

The neighborhood was far less trendy in 1997, when writers and artists made Tillie’s into a living room and de facto performance space.

The spirit never changed at Tillie’s, even as the neighborhood around it did.

“We’re going to mourn the loss,” said Harvey Wilson, a Clinton Hill resident who had the first and now the last exhibition at the shop. “What’s rare about a place like this is that it organically became a scene, with so many gifted people gravitating here. It’s a phenomenon, and you can’t just put that together.”

But that is just what Mulcahy, a former editor at Doubleday, set out to create. Back then, she realized that the neighborhood had a plethora of Pratt students and creatives — and no place for them to hang out.

Mulcahy came across the perfect venue by chance when she bought a couple of old chairs from the shop’s namesake Tillie Asnis. Her family ran a Laundromat out of the storefront before it became an antiques dealership.

Asnis told her that shopkeeper had just been murdered and that she was looking for a new tenant. Thus Tillie’s was born.

“There’s all kinds of stories with Tillie’s,” Mulcahy said. “It has a history and a real place in the neighborhood, and not that many places do.”

Mulcahy and company will host a goodbye party, but haven’t set a date.

In the meantime, regulars are downing as many brews as they can.

“It feels like we’re homeless,” said Mireya Perez, a Clinton Hill resident who holds poetry readings at the coffee house. “This was one of the attractions of the neighborhood. I hope that whatever comes here next keeps with the community.”

Tillie’s [248 DeKalb Ave. at Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 783-6140]. For info, visit www.tilliesofbrooklyn.com.

Reach Kate Briquelet at kbriquelet@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-2511.

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Reader Feedback

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
I moved to Fort Greene in 1997. Tillies really filled a void then and continued to be a great place since. I will miss it profoundly.
Dec. 16, 2011, Noon
Mike says:
Tillie's could have survived if they had changed with the times and paid attention to the quality of the coffee. Unfortunately, serving terrible coffee doesn't cut it in this day and age.
Dec. 17, 2011, 11:45 am
Glenn from Fort Greene says:
The main reason the landlord didn't approve of the potential buyers is because he wants a Starbucks in that location...which is sad. The neighborhood feel of the businesses in Fort Greene is what makes this area one of the best places to live in NY. To put a soulless Starbucks there would be counterproductive, a travesty and a slap in the face of our historic district. Let's make sure this doesn't happen.
Dec. 17, 2011, 4:30 pm
Joe says:
Are you guessing that the owner wants a Starbucks in there? I call b.s.

What's the landlord's phone number, I'll rent it and make a killing. What's he asking for rent on it anyway?
Dec. 19, 2011, 2:15 am
KE from Clinton Hill says:
Completely agree with Mike above. I never understood how such a popular place could serve such terrible coffee. Regardless, I hate to see a local spot leave the neighborhood. Hopefully it's replaced by something with a soul.
Dec. 19, 2011, 11:41 am
leah s from clinton hill says:
A few things...first that landlord is a not thinking straight. Why would a chain like Starbucks reside in such a small neighborhood not that I have anything against either parties but look at Starbucks locations...they are in place where people come to. The businesses in this area caters to the residents not primarily all of Brooklyn, therefore Starbucks most likely won't buy the place. So if the landlord is worried now he is going to be worried for a while. Secondly, why hasn't Tillie's sought after investors. They are big enough to own their own spot. Yes, real estate is very costly. There is no way they can make it on their own but the are assistance programs for small businesses. Thirdly, rent is rising yes, absolutely especially since the stadium is coming but there are programs to reduce cost such as heating and electrical. Also there are even more programs to encourage homeownership and will help people in need. None of the involved parties has an excuse.
Dec. 21, 2011, 11:53 am
joe from clinton hill says:
I heard the rent was doubling to 7k a month.
Dec. 21, 2011, 1:40 pm
Marc from Fort Greene says:
I was one of the people who came forward to take over and I didn't even get past an initial test of the current owner because he said the landlord is willing to have the space sit empty for as long as he can get his tax breaks on it while he waits for a chain to come in.

The landlord is dreaming and I think the neighborhood should pressure him. It's a shame this place is going. If it's run right, it could easily make the 7k rent and pay salaries and make a modest profit.
Dec. 21, 2011, 3:26 pm
Joe says:
Coffee shops cannot make 7k monthly rent work, not with every new yorker complaining about coffee costing more than a dollar.
Dec. 22, 2011, 5:09 pm
Lauren from Fort greene says:
Is he really asking 7K?
Jan. 22, 2012, 1:01 pm

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