Vox Popped! Outlaw coffeeshop closed down by taxman — again!

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The doors are shuttered, but there may still be hope for Brooklyn’s scrappiest café.

Last Tuesday, the state taxman shuttered revolutionary Ditmas Park coffeehouse Vox Pop for the third time since December, though despite rumors that the café was closed for good, general manager Debi Ryan said it’s not over yet.

“The fate of Vox Pop has not yet been determined,” wrote Ryan in an e-mail to The Brooklyn Paper. “The Board and shareholders are currently looking at various options to make a final determination as to what is best.” Ryan did not respond to further questioning about the café.

Ryan has battled endless troubles at the iconic Cortelyou Road café, bookstore and jam space since taking the reigns from its anarchist founder Sander Hicks last year and transforming the space into a “for-profit collective” with shares owned by various community members.

Hicks started the café on its road to financial ruin when he opened an under-capitalized new branch of the cafe at the Bowery Poetry Club in 2008, which was later closed. Ryan first met with Hicks as a business consultant, and eventually took over management of the café, along with $30,000 in unpaid Health Department fines and thousands of dollars in back rent and taxes. The back taxes led to the cafe’s seizure by the state Department of Taxation and Finance last December for owing over $56,000 and again in April after interest had ballooned the debt to $66,000, though both times the community rallied to fundraise for the revolutionary café.

In April, the state tax authorities struck a deal with Vox Pop to allow it to reopen for $15,000 up front and $1,000 a month after that.

Ryan made strides toward getting the café back on financial track, but apparently not enough. state Taxation spokesman Gregg Semanick declined to comment due to privacy restrictions.

For now, the café is shuttered, and neighbors have their fingers crossed.

“It’s a very quirky and interesting and place — I always liked it because it’s so weird and unusual,” said Marion Weiner, an area resident. “I don’t even go there that often, but I would definitely be sad if it closed for good.”

Liena Zagare of Ditmas Park Blog thinks Vox Pop’s salvation is in a clean slate. “Vox Pop should go bankrupt, and start fresh — the mess that Sander Hicks left is just too much money,” said Zagare. “There is no place like it in the neighborhood, and the hole it leaves is huge. What they were offering was a really wonderful community center, and each community needs one. Hanging out at Connecticut Muffin is not quite the same.”

For his part, Hicks, ever the conspiracy theorist and publisher of many books and treatises contending, among other things, that the Bush Administration was involved in the 9-11 attacks, blamed government thugs, not his failure to pay his taxes, for the closure.

“The state and federal governments will not tolerate a business that stands up to the lies of the War on Terror,” he said.

Updated 5:20 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Robert from Park Slope says:
Note to owners: You may be part of the loony left, but you still have to pay your taxes. Taxes pay for the nanny state you love so much.
Aug. 31, 2010, 7:01 am
Eric from Kensington says:

Your clearly a bigot with nothing better to do then to blame black people for any problem you see(im not black). Learn how to spell muslim and write a sentence correctly. You ignorant prick. Why do people like you get the courage to be racist on the internet, but on the street smile? You ——.
Aug. 31, 2010, 8:51 am
Andy from Park Slope. says:
Twat is a sexist word
Aug. 31, 2010, 12:16 pm
Robert from Park Slope says:
@ Eric ... just put on your tin hat, roll yourself some more of what you've been smoking, and everything will be better. Including your reading comprehension skills.
Cue the Pantone color 164-1-6 C helicopters and away we go!
Aug. 31, 2010, 4:34 pm
Eduardo Chicon from brighton beach says:
so you all too cool NYC metrosexual hipsters think you don;t have to pay taxes...and of course this is Bush's fault right? Well I guess their is little correlation between good business sense and radical leftist ideology as you loons have proven. Just keep smoking that sh*t and keep blaming's easy. Tax man gotcha you POS!!!!!
Aug. 31, 2010, 5:47 pm
no_slappz from Flatbush says:
Vox Pop failed for two reasons -- first, Sander Hicks embezzled lots of money that should have gone to pay taxes and other business bills. He's a criminal. Face it.

Second, the naive believers in this cafe foolishly decided to pay the overdue bills AND, most insanely, PAY OFF Hicks to go away.

This was an astounding act of Dudley DoRight-ism that set up the "investors" for the next fall. You do not pay off a con man. He ripped off the business, which should have gotten him arrested. Instead, he got a generous severance bonus.

After failing to initiate an investigation that would have led to Hick's arrest, followed by giving him money to go away, the "investors" decided to keep Vox open rather than follow the time-tested strategy of submitting a bankruptcy filing, wiping out the debts and starting fresh.

By taking the route they took, the investors maximized the pain for themselves while accomplishing nothing that matters.
Sept. 2, 2010, 6:41 am
Voxpop-co-owner#167 from Fort Greene says:
What a repulsive liar no_slappz is, as usual. We who are actually co-owners of Vox Pop know the truth, but for those of you at risk of being taken in by this flesh-rending denizen of Xibalba, Hicks received no bonus. He first relinquished most of his holdings voluntarily, then sold his remaining shares for a modest sum to other shareholders, the lion's share of the money on this transaction went to Vox Pop-- divesting himself completely so that shareholders who were willing to invest in rescuing Vox Pop, but were angry with Hicks for mismanaging the Cafe in the first place, would agree to step in.
Vox Pop has over teh past two years paid enormous sums in taxes, punitive fees and interests, not to mention repeated steep health department fines for minor offenses. (The frequency and alacrity of inspections is remarkable in itself.) There's no question that the authorities have repeatedly gone after Vox Pop with a vigor reserved only for the sworn enemies of the Corporate Kleptocracy.
The amount of money that VP still owes is a fraction of what it has already paid. NY State ought to forgive the outstanding interest and work with Vox Pop in continuing its good faith efforts to get out of debt, instead of closing its doors during its busiest season. It's neither in the best interests of the State finances or the community to do shut Vox Pop down.
To those of you whose schadenfreude and bigotry is showing: the current owners of Vox Pop are ordinary people and your neighbors. Compassion is not a weakness, though it's portrayed that way in the social-Darwinist storyline you've apparently adopted as your very own. Delighting in the misfortunes of others is however beneath contempt. Ironically, if it were a Tea Party clubhouse being shut down under similar circumstances, we'd hear nothing but shrieks of "Obama is Hitler" and "Destroy the Fascist State!"
Sept. 3, 2010, 6:07 pm
Gregory from Bensonhurst says:
Guess drugs and paranoia can really do something good in the struggle against The Man ...
Sept. 4, 2010, 5:53 pm
C from Brooklyn says:
@ #167--

I am very glad if you are happy with Vox Pop. What they sometimes offer the community is commendable. What they also offer, however, is sinus-clearing volume of local bands at 1 am, 2 am. We briefly lived about 400 feet from their door and even with doors and windows closed and noisy HVAC units on, we'd hear the music. If we called them, we'd get a lethargic bartender or other insouciant staffer who claimed not to realize what was happening. Best was that they'd leave the door open-- with the air conditioning on-- in the heat of summer.

In the end, surely most folks don't care a lick about their politics... certainly not I. What's been patently obvious for at least a year and a half is that it's a poorly-run business. You either sink or swim based on your own ability. And though their near-constant bobbing in the water has, in the past, been foisted on the community as a *community* problem, I think the time has come for them to either come up with their *own* survival skills... or sink below the surface.
Sept. 6, 2010, 7:59 am

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