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Black Coffee anarchist co-op says it’s leaving Capitol Hill

IMG_4458 (1)IMG_4481An 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.”

Scott Davis and Stephen Hrivnak, two of the original Black Coffee worker-owners (Images: CHS)

Scott Davis and Stephen Hrivnak, two of the original Black Coffee worker-owners (Images: CHS)

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.

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92 thoughts on “Black Coffee anarchist co-op says it’s leaving Capitol Hill

      • Agree. The statements from this group are saying that “colonialism, Empire”…and the Capitol Hill neighborhood…are responsible for their demise. Right, I’m sure it had nothing to do with their business plan, lack of capital to keep it going, etc. Glad they will be gone.

      • I guess you can tell if an anarchist is around cause they smell like sulfer and have two big horns on their heads and fangs for teeth. They won’t miss you either I suppose, as your ignorance has an overwhelming stench…

  1. The amount of street harassment myself I encountered walking by makes me stoked to hear this. Rarely could you walk around the corner up Summit with out someone playing a drum or smoking a bowl in the middle of the side walk with their neglected dog. Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.

      • The harassment ranged from leers, whistles and sexually charged comments. This harassment combined with the blocking of peoples paths make for an uncomfortable block. I had people say weird sexual shit to me, I had people ask me for money and get pissed off when I said I had none, I had people make comments about my body. but yeh, the drums were fucking annoying.

      • Yep, just today one of these attention-starved losers jumped in front of me and waggled his fingers in my face while making woofing sounds.

        I wanted to support this business as it did seem to preserve the character of “Old Capitol Hill.” Unfortunately, the dudes who hang out there have more in common with the dudebros of the Capitol Hell they despise than they’d ever admit.

      • I’ve lived on Capitol Hill for 18 years, lady, and before that, born & raised in Providence. Never even been to the midwest, you stereotyping idiot.

  2. “The challenges of challenging Empire and colonialism and all the other ‘isms that come with them, internally and externally.”

    A lot of alliteration from anxious anchors placed in powerful posts!

    Aaron Altman

  3. Such a shame. And please don’t come back to the Central District, either– we don’t need you here any more than Capitol Hill does.

  4. If they really want to challenge Empire, they should relocate to Bellevue (the city, not the street). Dialogue extension does not end at Lake Washington!

  5. Their sense of hygiene left a lot to be desired, too. Like, putting fingers into tea after shaking the hands of unwashed homeless people who walked in.

    Yeah, turns out anarchists don’t want to follow ANY rules, including ones that keep their patrons from getting sick.

    Oh, but without these dipshits around, who’s going to encourage people to endanger people by throwing glowing frisbees out into traffic while their unleashed dogs romp around biting at everyone who passes by? And who will be there to make Raygun’s shared bathroom intolerable to use?

  6. Sweet! Besides having coffee that taste like dirt. The place had annoying people that hung out side and would yell random shit at people passing by. I had one guy pull a knife on a friend visiting me saying he was going to cut him since he kept laughing about him and how his dog is in the pound…. Mind you we were walking talking about our day at work and didn’t see him tell he threatened him. Crazy customers and shitty coffee. They can cry big business all they want but the owners are trust fund kids being rebels against their parents and I think the parents told them they can’t keep supporting this shitty cafe. Now they have to leave.

  7. I’ve never patronized Black Coffee or World of Beer, for that matter, but I loved the juxtaposition of the two across the street from one another. If ever there were a pair of odd bedfellows…

  8. I hear about this a few weeks ago from our next door/building neighbor. She said at the time they voted to disband, not move elsewhere. It was also said that Ron Amundson had no idea that the shop was going to turn into what it became or they never would have go the space.

    • I can’t imagine there are a whole lot of landlords lining up to rent to them anywhere else in the city they’d try to relocate, either.

  9. ” remain guided by our communities as a project of anarchist infrastructure, a small contribution to the project of building the commons.”

    Just focus on your core competency: JARGON!!

    So glad not to be part of your “communities.” Buh bye.

  10. I’m no fan of this place, but the comments below are far more upsetting than the stupid ones in the article. They’re a bunch of kids being kids. It’s pretty impressive what they’ve been able to put together and that it worked as well as it did as long as it did.

    The comments under this article, however? Truly depressing. Indicative of the sad slide of Capitol Hill into “Bellevue West”. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize, amirite everyone? I can just imagine a bunch of douches in suits fuh-fuh-fuhfering around, arms akimbo and flapping, heads bobbing like a bunch of puffed up pigeons. “Trash! Hygeine! OMG a dog!”

    This coop has it’s issues (the owner-employee pomposity being one of them) but at least it lent a little flavor. Developers and fafillion-dollar new cardboard-condo owners won’t be happy until Capitol Hill looks and feels exactly like downtown Bellevue. ie: ANOTHER SHINY SHOPPING MALL. Nothing but the Gap and Charbucks and Ruth’s Chris and “artisan” popsicles. Awesome.

    Oh, and BTW? Amundson is no victim here. The guy is a greedy douchebag who has done as much or more than anyone on the hill to drive rent sky-high. Renter beware. Amundson will squeeze you for every penny he can, and when he’s got all he can legally, he’ll screw with you in a hundred small ways to make you so miserable you’ll want to take the financial hit and break your lease just to get away from him.

    • There is a vast middle ground between a poorly run business that people are not sad to see leaving and strip malls. Generalization is fun.

      • Dude, whatever. I have lived on the hill for 20 years. I’ll shed a tear for the old Eileen’s on broadway, and Septieme, and some of the other dives/not-dives that used to be, but not for this place and its particular brand of ne’er-do-wells that have congregated and congested the sidewalk terrorizing folks since they opened. Halloween can’t come soon enough. You set up a great straw man though. Good job!

    • The landlord of any building that is tenanted by people who are engaging in harassment, nuisance conduct, and downright illegal activities has to rid him/her self of such renters in order to prevent litigation. If anyone had been seriously injured in anything from an on-site altercation to having unwittingly become involved in an accident from the glowing Frisbee tosses, the injured party would quickly discover that they may not be able to recover monetary losses from the Black Coffee Co-op and go after the owner of the building instead.

      IMO, the owner of this building ought to have acted a long time ago to 86 this bad news business. I don’t care what or who is responsible for this place getting off of the Hill — they can’t leave soon enough as far as I’m concerned.

      • I’ve lived in a building owned by this ‘landlord.’ He’s honestly the worst I’ve ever had, and I’ve lived in over 10 apartments in 3 states. Hell, I never ssw him in the year of living in that cockroach infested, junkies sleeping in the hallway, coke-dealer-neighbor-having, garbage lining the hallways shitty place until the onsite manager drunkard was hauled out by the U.S. marshals. He didn’t even have electricity in his apartment for two years, and almost allowed the building’s water turned off from not paying the bills.

        I digress… ‘Slumlord’ makes millions off of many properties in Seattle and could care less about who inhabits them as long as he’s getting paid.

      • You actually lived in this mess without contacting the Health Department, the Tenants Union, the City of Seattle Building Department, and a dozen other agencies that will put anyone who allows this sort of environment to exist in Court in a heartbeat? And you actually paid him rent? Who’s to blame there?

    • Waaa, waaa, waaaa……when you announce you’re leaving and clearly nobody cares, it’s a pretty clear indication what “the Community” needs, and what you in your superior wisdome THINK they need, are not aligned. Or maybe you need to better define your “Community”?

      “Gee, I sure wish Black Coffee CoOp would leave Capitol Hill and move to [our neighborhood]”, said nobody, ever.

    • This so much. It’s a bunch of badge wearing bland, uncultivated yuppies with money who are fresh from the suburbs. They want their little boxes on the hillside.

  11. I am just going to come out and say it: I appreciate Black Coffee Coop and am sad to see it is going to close/move.

    While it can be quite gritty (no, really, it does push my limits sometimes), and certainly not the place I would meet coworkers or what few classy friends/family I have, I love that it exists, and often enjoy working from there. I even like the coffee and food. It feels sincere, and that goes a long, long way for me.

    Thank you Black Coffee for adding some dirt and contrast to the shininess (which I also enjoy sometimes) of the hill.

    • Agreed. The comments here are upsetting. This coffeeshop actually had a diverse clientele, which made me feel very comfortable and welcome every time I went in there for coffee and food. I will miss them and their library and wonderful space!

      • …”The comments here are upsetting”…

        You really didn’t know that there were neighbors that didn’t like it? I don’t understand why you would be upset at the comments. It’s always been a diverse neighborhood.

      • Guess what? I don’t like being harassed, which is what happens to me practically every day that I walk by there. Why that should come as a surprise to anyone is beyond me.

      • Yeah, that’s the thing about harassers, Petunia. They pick and choose their victims. Maybe you look intimidating, or maybe you always walk by the place with a guy. But as a short, young-looking girl who walks by there alone daily on my way to the gym in my gym clothes, I get harassed every freaking day by these dudes. A number of other women (and some guys) on here have said the same.

      • Sorry that you have had to put up with that crap, Maggie. It should have no place in our neighborhood. There is nothing “bland” about demanding the right to walk down the street and not feel like you were made to feel.

    • I agree. I found Black Coffee to be generally a friendly & pleasant place to hang out, and they made great use of their space – it was impressive to me that in just a couple of years they managed to foster a more homelike & cozy atmosphere than many far more well-established coffeeshops on the hill. I’ll miss them, and selfishly wish they would consider staying in the neighborhood.

  12. The only place I’ve ever been harassed in Seattle is outside Black Coffee. There’s always some better-than-you losers outside ready to insult anyone walking by. Not just talking about the crusty punks from whom you expect it, but from the friends of the rich kid poseurs running the place. I’m an old punk and I haven’t heard shit-talking like that since high school. Here’s hoping its back to mommy’s basement on Mercer Island with the lot of them.

  13. Good riddance to bad neighbors. Everyone assumes that the neighbors that don’t like them are always the rich apartment people but I live in the income-restricted brick building next door. I have been harassed many times by their clientele (threatened, intimidated, shouted at right up close to my face, sexual comments, etc) and they always had an encampment in front that would hang out after closing and howl and drum into the night when neighbors were trying to sleep.

    They also have had nights of breaking the noise ordinance with overly amplified music, and as many have stated, their coffee wasn’t even good. I understand that they are just immature young kids who think it makes sense to play podcasts in their space about how the cops are evil, but these immature young kids believe in disorder and they do what they can to promote it.

    I’m moving to a new neighborhood partly because of this place, and I hope they don’t end up in the same one. I doubt there are many that would rent to them. Let them hang out in their parents’ basements where they belong.

  14. I’m as open to diversity as the next guy but when I’m walking by with my 14 yr old daughter and grimy assholes tell my daughter she “needs to drop the old ass and get with a real man” that has no place in the neighborhood!

    • Oh thank god! I love the idea of this place, but like anarchy and comminism, great ideas are ruined by the choices and procedural ulexecution of its human constituents. If youre patrons suck and you refuse to deal its your fault not the community’s. Most of us don’t want BC here, save for a few street kids and hipsters. Au revior and good night, its been real.

  15. I am concerned that these folks are leaving. It was nice that all the poor and dirty street scum hung inside/outside of the place. It made it easier to avoid them. All I had to do was cross the street ahead of time. But now with no place to go to get out of the cold or get free food, or general hospitality all these street folks who I hate and cant bare to see, are going to be everywhere on the hill. I am going to have to avert my eyes more then ever….What are we gonna do about this?

  16. Very sad to hear, Black Coffee has always been a safe place and home to me. There’s nowhere on the hill with such a beautiful diversity of people, and such honest engagements. It’s easily one of the only coffee shops where people had real and open conversations with each other. It was a collaborative, a community that had open arms for those willing to embrace them for who they were. I loved it there, and will make the next few months last as I can.

  17. I went in to get some work done once, and when I left to use the restroom, one of the junkies rushed the door as I was opening it and tried groping me. When I pushed him off and told him to go eft himself, the people working got mad at me for “causing a scene and disturbing the environment of peace”. Nevermind I just had had a man much larger and stronger than me try and try to assault me (physically, potentially sexually). These guys had no idea what they were doing or how to deal with people who were actively creeping people out.

  18. Good riddance. Black Coffee was a haven of verbal and physical abuse, drug use, and generally NOT a safe space. I hope they never find a new venue.

    • My thoughts exactly. For all the bomb-throwing about condo-ization and yuppie-ization of Seattle, this place was making the neighborhoods MUCH worse than a bunch of ugly buildings and Amazon workers. Community is awesome. This place did NOTHING for the community, except irritate and, in my case, call me “dried up” for some reason. And I was totally moisturized!

  19. I’m pretty good at avoiding harassment (the key is to be misty-eyed, gazing into the distance, with an enigmatic smile, walking a little too briskly for Seattle, all the while looking plausibly like you don’t speak English very well), but the Black Coffee stretch tested my mettle every time and it was usually less work to walk in the bike lane.

    Sorry to hear that some folks are losing a space that was friendly to them, but I’m glad that that stretch of Pine will be more friendly to me.

  20. I can not begin to express my happiness. The drug use, the animal abuse and the child neglect I saw almost every time I passed there in the past month. I can’t wait until they’re gone. Here’s hoping that some awesome new neighbors show up. I pray those new folks won’t be harassed by the BC freaks who’ve made that corner their home.

  21. Well I have walked by Black Coffee many many times without out a word coming from the mouths of the “unfortunate few” However I once had coffee in the place with a friend and the odor was somewhat unsettling I think if I had given it a chance I could have gotten use to it. I did not know about all the harassment and noise etc ..that was happening at BC, the coffee was not great but not bad either ..better than Folgers IMO.
    I”m neutral about its departure, however it seems that the majority of posters have had some bad experiences there and it seems that the community would be better served with its coming departure.

  22. Not condoning panhandling or harassment, but as far as I’m concerned if you have never been a scruffy kid on a road trip that went on maybe a little too long, you haven’t really lived your life. I appreciate a little of that energy in my neighborhood, and sorry to see it go. Some of the old grouches posting on here should try and remember what it’s like to be broke and free and 20 years old, assuming they didn’t pass directly from pre-adolescence to middle age codgerhood.

    • Going straight from highschool, to college, and then a few years to marriage after beginning a healthy career is not “codgerhood.” It’s a life choice, no different than the life choices those outside of black coffee is making. Oh wait, my life choices don’t involve harassing others or illegal activities so I guess it’s different after all.

    • Right on JB! Although I’m a bit of a bit of a middle aged codger, I definitely haven’t forgotten what it is to be broke, free, and 20. I feel both nostalgia and great concern for a lot of those kids I see all over Seattle. Difficult personal back grounds intermixed with economic and social divisions often make good people behave like cynical A-holes…it’s not an easy road. We can scorn the behavior but not the person.

      • Except they’re all trust-fund kids who dropped out of high school and ran away from their parents’ houses in Bellevue to do heroin in the bathroom have toddlers that break bones and wander through the smoke-filled entryway without supervision. This is not an exaggeration.

      • A person’s behavior is a part of that person….you can’t separate them. Your comment reminds me of religious bigots who say they “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

      • Nope. Not a bigot. Not regilious either. If you’ve ever raised kids (or even a dog) then you know too well that a good kid can behave like a brat, and a dog will piss on the kitchen floor until the parents and other adults have helped them figure out that their behavior is not constructive. It’s about nurturing self actualized, happier people…and good dogs.

  23. In twenty months, I’ve played twenty folk/folk-rock concerts at Black Coffee Coop. I usually do this the first Saturday night of the month. I am 65, and have been doing folk/folk-rock music for 51 years. I need and want to play to all-ages audiences. I want to play to diverse audiences. I’m not interested in getting paid big bucks. This is my gift for anyone who wishes to listen. At Black Coffee Coop, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed singing and playing for people who are young, old, gay, straight, people of every ethnic background, well-to-do, not-so-well-to-do, political people, apolitical people, retirees, students, disabled, travelers. These folks in turn, have shown a lot of appreciation for my efforts. I sing songs of peace and love; songs about the struggle for equality for all. Black Coffee has provided me a forum for my concerts, where the focus is to bring people together in positive ways.To help folks understand one another. To find what we have in common. To see what we can do together to bring change that makes things better for all freedom-loving people. I have been shown so much respect by my audiences, and especially by Black Coffee Coop members. I didn’t realize there were problems happening out on the sidewalk in front of the place. My attention has always been focused on those in Black Coffee. I’ve had a tremendous time singing my songs, meeting all kinds of people, exploring and rejoicing in concepts of peace, and love and harmony. These are not just old hippie terms. I’ve felt it in the air in Black Coffee. My heart goes out to anyone who has had a different experience. I wish you could have come to one of my concerts, to see the other side. I do have one more to do, in September….

    • That’s nice that you had good experiences there, but clearly you are the exception…as evidenced by the many negative posts on this thread. Those people are not making up the terrible experiences they have had there.

      • Dear Calhoun,

        Oh, I believe you and the other posters. I hope the coop relocates, and that the members are able to take all of this learning and apply it going forward — that ultimately a lot of positive things will happen in their new space.

      • I’m assuming that during your concerts, the staff is a little more lenient for the outside patrons, or that you’re not hanging outside very much. As it turns out, many of those outside of black coffee are unliked, even by the inside patrons. There are people at
        Black Coffee, that are very often at Black Coffee, who have taken advantage of the place’s extremely carefree kindness. Some of these individuals have been banned from using their bathroom, for drug-related or vandalism-related reasons, or done something worth mentioning to staff. As a patron of a neighboring business, I’ve seen those, banned from Black Coffee (it happens), come to ask for the key to the bathroom, only to be denied there as well. I am going to assume that these individuals are ultimately ruining all of the outsiders’ opinions of Black Coffee. The problem being, there is a huge ratio of “bad” Black Coffee patrons to the “good” ones. So much so, that I unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to meet any of the good ones. I can say that in the times I’ve communicated with the workers, the representatives of Black Coffee, it was more than pleasant- those folks are very welcoming.

        The main problem is, the individuals who are ruining Black Coffee’s image are the same individuals that Black Coffee wants to protect. #notallBlackCoffeefolks. Just too many of them.

      • Thanks for writing. You are correct, I don’t hang out at *all* when I play a show there, because I do three-hour shows with no break. My shows are gatherings for people, literally babies to seniors, who want to hear and talk with me (I encourage discussion) about the songs of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Elvis Costello, etc., and there has never been a problem at any of my 20 shows. I am so sorry that the good people who have written here have been treated badly, outside. — To the point that some walk on the other side of the street. My shows are all about doing the right thing by one another. I’ve played coops and collectively-run cafes and coffeehouses in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. The concept is, I think, a great one. I encourage people to come my Sept 6 show and see what the atmosphere is like. *Don’t tip me!* I am not trying to get you to come for that reason. Your presence would simply add to everyone’s good evening. Thank you!

  24. Having just walked by this place and got doused in Hawaiian Punch by one of the countless druggies that frequent their sidewalk, I CAN’T WAIT for this place to close. Adios. Good riddance. Etc.

  25. I wish nothing but the best for the owners of Black Coffee. The guys have always been welcoming, professional, and the coffee is quite good. If they move ahead with what they’ve garnered from this experience (a new coffee shop in another good location) I’m sure they’ll do well and I’ll look forward to going there.

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