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.