An experiment in social entrepreneurialism — and coffee — on Capitol Hill has come to an end. Black Coffee, the E Pine “worker co-op, cafe and community space,” will shutter by Halloween and leave the neighborhood in search of a new home.
The co-op announced the planned closure Sunday afternoon:
The challenges of challenging Empire and colonialism and all the other ‘isms that come with them, internally and externally. Putting a bat behind the counter, after learning that sometimes words just didn’’t work. These are all memories and experiences we’ll take with us, whether we wanted them or not. We’re honored & humbled to keep these memories.
In the last year the collective has said goodbye to one member and gained three, for a total of six worker-owners, half of which were born and raised in the metropolis of the Emerald City. The current six have decided to leave 501 E. Pine, located onTrap Hill, Babylon. But rest assured… WE ARE NOT ABANDONING THIS PROJECT NOR OUR COMMUNITIES!!!
“We are leaving this location so that we can adjust to what our communities need and provide what we can, with an eye to the long term.” the message concludes. “We are trying to remain guided by our communities as a project of anarchist infrastructure, a small contribution to the project of building the commons.”
The group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $30,000 to help Black Coffee find a new location.
In July, CHS reported on issues with Department of Planning and Development permits that were leading to big changes with Black Coffee’s neighbor Raygun Lounge and placing the co-op’s future on E Pine in jeopardy:
According to DPD documents, inspectors have been working with the co-op this year to resolve issues over capacity and elements like “cooking appliances” in the cafe’s kitchen. A shared and apparently under-resourced bathroom facility in the building will also be getting an upgrade, Logan says. While the DPD details on things like capacity, exits and appliances might seem ticky-tack, they are often the elements by which the city regulates the use of space — and changes can cost thousands of dollars to complete at a level that satisfies use requirements.
We asked co-op member Scott Davis at the time for more information about the permit issues but did not hear back. We’ll check in with Black Coffee and Davis again to see if we can learn more. The Raygun Lounge, in the meantime, combined forces with its mothership Gamma Ray Games now moving forward in the space in its sixth year of business on Capitol Hill. UPDATE: Davis tells us while Capitol Hill’s current wave of development “may have also helped us pull together as a community,” the changing neighborhood “certainly has made it financially (and emotionally) untenable to stay here.”
Black Coffee began its search for a Capitol Hill home in 2012 describing itself as “a worker’s cooperative recently formed with the intention to create a café space & infoshop in Seattle. The application of socialist principals to many of the realities of running a cafe business in a dense city environment sometimes proved a challenge for the group. CHS checked in with Black Coffee last year as the collective wrestled with the challenges of combining its social ideals with day to day operations:
“Signs went up,” Davis said. “We wanted to resolve this as a collective.”
As complaints continued, the group discovered it was going to take more. Black Coffee resorted to the bane of any good anarchist.
“We did come up with a policy,” Davis said. “Zero tolerance for sexual behavior. Zero tolerance for intoxication.”
The building — once home to Travelers — is owned by prolific Capitol Hill real estate investor Ron Amundson. We haven’t heard yet about any new tenant line up for the cafe’s space. In addition to neighboring Gamma Ray, the location is across the street from brew-centered national chain World of Beer.
Meanwhile, in Black Coffee’s list of “expected questions” on the closure announcement is this goodbye to its birth neighborhood:
Why is this happening? Well the easy answer is that Capitol Hill is becoming Capital Hell. There is more potential in leaving.
Good Bye Capitol Hill – http://t.co/y8Lnngnqhy
— Black Coffee (@BlackCoffeeCoop) August 17, 2014