Vox Pop gets carried away at state tax auction

John Barret woke up and smelled the coffee maker.
Community Newspaper Group / Joe Anuta

Everything was up for graps at Vox Pop this week as the state taxman auctioned off pieces of the Cortelyou Road coffeehouse — former customers bought up statues, shelves, and books while hopeful restaurateurs carried away refrigerators, coffeemakers, and even the kitchen sink.

That’s not a cute metaphor — someone really did buy the sink as part of a fire sale that marked the true end of the troubled, collectively owned coffeehouse utopia, which was shuttered after numerous bouts with that most capitalistic of concepts: tax paying.

“Vox Pop is over,” said Glenn Wolin, who helped run the store. “There are no assets left.”

The final day of the shop came as a surprise to many who had been following the ups and downs of the business, but never expected it to close for good.

“Instead of coming to breakfast, I ended up coming to an auction,” said John Barret, who showed up for a cup of coffee — but left with a quality espresso grinder.

Debi Ryan, the shop’s chief officer, had to give everything up after failing to pay more than $66,000 in back taxes to the state, the majority of which were incurred by the shop’s previous owner, Sander Hicks. And the fire sale didn’t appear to help as much as expected.

“It’s a shame because the auction isn’t bringing in that much money,” said Rick Menello. “They’re not getting as much as they thought they would.”

Part of the reason Ryan didn’t pay the state is because she paid debts to small businesses and employees first.

“We paid back the old debt, and that’s important,” she said.

To most, it seemed like Ryan simply took over a business that had sunk far too deep into debt, but some customers of the hangout — who are known for their polemic political views — thought otherwise.

“To close a place like this because of a few back taxes is ridiculous. There has to be another motive,” said A.A. Prichard. “The underlying idea here is that this is political”

Whatever the reasons, the iconic café will be sorely missed in the neighborhood.

“This is like seeing my baby in the hospital,” said Shawn Leon Thomas III, who helped build the store. “Blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this shop over the years.”

Others reflected on how the coffeehouse functioned as a meeting place for the community and hosted live music and art exhibits.

“It was unique, and will be a big loss to the neighborhood,” said a man who would only identify himself as DJ Buzz. “It was like Cheers without the hard alcohol.”

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