Friday, August 2, 2013

Zocalo Coffeehouse is Closing

Zocalo Coffeehouse is dead. Long live Zocalo Coffeehouse!

The short story, and perhaps all that many will care to read, is that Zocalo Coffeehouse is closing. A victim, not of the economy, or of some imagined loss of interest in coffee in America, but, simply because they have lost their lease. After 11 years, a vital and thriving business in San Leandro is closing. Mitch and Tim, the owners have opted to move on, rather than go through the expense of opening up a new spot. And that is the end of the sad news. The good part of this, is that Sara, the longtime roaster for Zocalo has purchased the business, and once relocated, hopefully close to my home, there will be a new Zocalo Coffeehouse.

And this is important.

The long story is often where the truth lies, and for Zocalo, and for me, and my interests in seeing San Leandro become a community that will fulfill it's potential, Zocalo was far more than just a coffeehouse. I came to Zocalo after it had been opened for a year, I had just moved to San Leandro, a city that was not even on my "long" list of cities I wanted to live in, after realizing that I could not afford to locate to Berkeley or Oakland, that I detested Walnut Creek and San Ramon and that Richmond and El Cerrito, my home towns simply were too far from work. Here I met Mitch and Tim Holmes, and found two friends, and advocates for my new home town, who had chosen this town to put down roots and raise a family. These are two of the most unlikely of San Leandro denizens I could imagine, having far more in common with my friends from Berkeley or Oakland, than here. But, Zocalo was their baby back then, with the mission statement as clear as could be.

"Coffeehouses have a long tradition of being gathering places. They’ve been the home to many a revolutionary, with caffeinated spirits rallying themselves and their compatriots to a cause. In fact, throughout history coffeehouses have been banned by oppressive regimes for their fostering of free thought and discussion.

We hope to inspire friendships, conversations, and even, perhaps, some learning; a place where the customers, my neighbors, can talk freely, within walking distance of their homes."

 And, indeed, this was where my mornings, and many of my connections in San Leandro were formed. I live on a great street, but, the neighborhood, I learned about at Zocalo, and it represents a lot of my experiences in this town. As a person who is fascinated with the built environment, and how we, both as individuals, and as a society live within our environment, San Leandro exists as an enigma, and Zocalo was the oddity at the heart of this enigma. I found that the town lacked an identity, even the commercial areas lacked definition. Literally, everything I understood about City Building and Community, seemed to be under-achieving. It quickly became obvious, that outside of the band of neighborhoods that I moved in to, there was little to recommend this town. And then there was Zocalo, house roasting coffee, baristas wearing, well, whatever they wanted, no uniforms, no corporate everything logos, no canned lifestyle.

As I sat in the shop over the years, I came to realize that for Tim, the shop was more about what he could do to effect change, in what he considers to be his families home town. The coffee was a means to an end, and the end, was to change the small part of the world he wanted to make his home. I have some to consider Mitch and Tim to be close friends, and during that time, my understanding of Tim evolved. He was about innovation, about sustainability, not in the 'au courant;' fashion of "green everything" but, in the deeper way, that a community needs to grow, needs to explore, it is the understanding that community, city and culture are all ecosystems, Inescapably tied to each other, as plants are to water and sun. Zocalo was Tim's first shot, and his base of operations, in trying to change San Leandro into a vital sustainable community. And for me, here I found great coffee, good friends and optimism that in the end, where I could afford to live, was also where I would want to live.

And now, ten years later, this zocalo, this community place, is closing, just as the City is entertaining a culture of innovation and creativity, as the City is leading the country in connectivity, the coffeehouse that I have come to see as the center of thought, is closing, for now. And I have, somehow, become a part of that change, and that is also, through Zocalo and discussions over coffee. Even as I look at the demise, at least for a few months, of my beloved morning frou-frou latte, I am left with the legacy of Zocalo, which is my hope that San Leandro is going to become a truly sustainable City, with a heart of innovation and intellect.

And I know, that Sara and Dan, the new owners, will serve great coffee, I also know, that Zocalo will change, as every place has it's moment in time and that time eventually comes, when it must end. Perhaps the new owner's passion for social justice will lead a new activism in my town, a new legacy much needed. And so...

Zocalo Coffeehouse is dead. Long live Zocalo Coffeehouse!