A decade-old coffee shop in the Virginia Village neighborhood closed Saturday, October 26, as its last line of loyal customers extended from the checkout counter and out the door. But this story contains more twists than the waiting line did, making the local saga different from other recent restaurant closings.
Located at 1501 South Holly Street (at East Florida Avenue), Sojourners Coffee & Tea was a favorite morning stop and afternoon hangout for nearby residents as well as passersby who appreciated the small-business atmosphere, the cozy wooden paneling and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and tea. About six months ago, though, owner Michael Brown decided to retire so that he could spend time traveling and pursue other long-delayed life goals.
After announcing in September that he planned to close Sojo’s, as neighbors call the cafe, Brown heard from potential buyers who wanted to keep the business running. Customers greeted the news warmly, but in the past week, talks between the buyers and the landlord disintegrated, an outcome that Brown attributed to miscommunication between the two sides. The deal’s failure came about the same time that the Sojourners lease expired, so Brown says he had to shut the shop.
“It’s been a time of grief, hope and grief again,” he explained from his cubby-hole-sized office beside the kitchen.
But the day Sojourners closed, another group of potential buyers (including some customers) stepped forward and expressed interest in buying the enterprise. “So I still have some hope,” Brown noted while acknowledging that the negotiations are preliminary.
The landlord, listed on city records as Demis Investors LLLP (that is, a limited liability limited partnership), could not be reached for comment.
Shop manager Tanner Carricato was saddened at Sojo’s closing, largely because he enjoyed the job for the six and a half years he worked there. “The customers, especially, have been great,” he stated.
Next to Carricato, crisp white bar towels still hung in the kitchen, freshly laundered by Moore’s Cleaners next door. “When you lose one small business like this, it has a ripple effect,” the manager added.
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Barista Rich Allebach, another of Sojo’s nine part-time employees, echoed that feeling. “Maybe there’s a lesson for people,” he said. “Just drive a couple of extra minutes to support your local small business instead of giving your money to a big chain. The benefits extend throughout the community.”
On Sojourners' final day, the sun streamed through the windows before a coming winter storm. Customers Daniel Horsey and Jackie Aamodt, who recently moved to Virginia Village, also felt disappointment. “I was really excited to think we’d found this wonderful little neighborhood place, and then we heard it was closing,” Aamodt said as she and her toddler soaked up the sun on Sojo's patio while her dog lapped water from the metal bowl always provided for customers’ canine companions.
“It’s the loss of the neighborhood feel,” Horsey added.
From the street, a sign in Sojourners' window can be seen, announcing that the 1,400-square-foot space, part of a small strip shopping center built in 1978, is now for rent. The next chapter — whether the new group of buyers continues Sojourners' story or the space becomes something new — remains to be written.