In a development that surprised few but saddened many, Kari Capone announced yesterday that she was permanently shutting down Kari’s Café in Maplewood. In December, Capone had turned to her loyal customer base to plead for help in keeping the financially struggling café afloat.
Despite that effort, as well as expanding the menu and tweaking her hours, Capone just couldn’t make it work.
“I feel as though I gave it my all and tried everything,” Capone said on a steamy Wednesday morning, as a steady stream of customers filed in for freshly baked muffins and foamy lattes. “That’s why I’m not so sad.”
In fact, she looked relaxed and content. She spent the previous night knitting a sweater (she is a skilled fiber artist and teacher), and realizing that she felt calm for the first time in a long while. “I have a plan now, and that is giving me some peace.”
The café will shut its doors on July 31. Until then, Capone will continue to serve coffee and baked goods, as well as Lickt Gelato, handmade in small batches by Maplewood resident Margaret Woods. Woods let me sample her latest creation, Guinness flavor, which will soon show up on the menu at St. James’ Gate. It was delicious.
It is possible that Lickt will stay on, but nothing has yet been decided by the building’s owner.
Capone said her closing is endemic of the struggles many small businesses are facing on Springfield Avenue, which has been especially stung by the economy.
“This two-block stretch has suffered a lot in recent years,” she said, noting the closings of Furbish furniture store, Café Meow, Bank of America and Stories in Motion.
“I don’t want to give up on the avenue entirely,” said Capone. “I think it might be going through a different phase right now.” She mentioned the new Walgreens opening soon, which she hopes will draw more customers to the street.
As for Capone’s next phase, for now it does not include pouring coffee. She is considering returning to her old field of educational publishing.
Other local small business owners reacted with resigned sympathy. “I’m sorry to hear it,” said Steve Crane, owner of Crane’s Deli in Maplewood Village. Crane himself nearly shut his doors a few months ago but was able to negotiate a better deal with his landlord.
“Kari’s closing is sad for the community and for Springfield Avenue,” said Cupcake Corral owner Joe Ramaikas, who noted that summer business at his Ridgewood Road shop was a bit slow.
“I will miss my regular customers,” said Capone. “That’s the best part of this job. I know a lot about how people like their coffee.”