After a nearly decade long presence in Hartford's Frog Hollow neighborhood, a popular coffee shop and community hub closed its doors at the end of June. WNPR's J Holt brings us its story.
The story of the closing of La Paloma Sabanera Coffee House is a hard one to tell right. There's the recession, controversy over the new Hartford busway, an absentee landlord and a difficult rent negotiation, and even some tough winter weather.
Iacobucci- "So it always seemed like we'd be able to take two steps forward, and one step back."
Owner Virginia Iacobucci finally decided she couldn't go on when her lease was up at the end of June. But this story is about more than just the closing of a business, because from the start, La Paloma was about more than just coffee.
Ahghari- "It's not comparable like other coffee shops, I always can get coffee. That was not the reason to come over here."
Saeed Ahghari's been coming here to Frog Hollow from South Windsor, about a half hour away, since soon after Virginia Iacobucci took over the business in 2008, and he was one of the last customers to leave before the doors closed for good last week.
Ahghari- "It is a beautiful, warm place. Educational, camaraderie, people getting together for good, good causes. Plus, I love poetry, music, friendly people and culture, and always found it over here."
Iacobucci, like La Paloma's original owners, the Cotto family, envisioned La Paloma as what she calls a third place, not home and not work -- but another place to live your life. And, in support of that vision, she offered space on the small stage by the front door to any event that would benefit the community- whether for the members of the audience, or the performer needing a place to develop their work. Stephen Haynes is a Hartford based improvisational composer who has been performing at La Paloma since it was owned by the Cotto's.
Haynes- "So I think the community ends up being people who are attracted to that energy. People who want to drink from the well, people who want to bring their own and contribute to that and to share."
And the sense of community he's describing was on full display the night before La Paloma closed, when hundreds of people gathered to celebrate Iacobucci's 5 years of ownership, and collectively mourn La Paloma's passing. Julia Pistell hosted a regular series at La Paloma, and organized the closing celebration.
Pistell- "There was such a crazy turn out for artists that wanted to participate in this, that we are doing 40, 5 minute acts in a row."
The acts ranged from music to poetry, storytelling to improv. And each, like Stephen Haynes, had previously performed, if not gotten their start, on the stage at La Paloma.
Haynes- "There were so many different kinds of people, so many different kinds of music, and yet nobody was passing judgement on any particular genre that was there, and I think the same thing was true of the humanity. It was just this glorious mixture of all kinds of people, all kinds of strata and layers that exist in and around the hartford community. It's a marvelous thing."
For owner Virginia Iacobucci, the final night summed up her vision of what La Paloma should be.
Iacobucci- "One of the things that surprised me when I bought this business, was that you stand for something. And I know that a lot of people see it as a failure in the community. And I don't want people to see it that way."
Those who can only see the simple statistics, that the business, in the end, couldn't make it, may still see it as a failure. But among the crowd were many people who will take away something else. People who say they can mark a single performance at La Paloma as the moment they met all of their friends in Hartford. Performers who credit La Paloma as the launch pad for their professional careers. For myself, I was looking to move to Hartford when I first heard of La Paloma. But getting a taste of the water in La Paloma's well made me move to Frog Hollow. Julia Pistell says she remains hopeful for the future.
Pistell- "To even be defining what the space is and was is only happening now. So now that people know what they are looking for, I see a lot of people craving to create the new La Paloma."
And, of course it wouldn't be the same. But in the community that has grown out of La Paloma, there is tremendous potential.
-The song playing under the last half of the piece is "Cucurrucucu Paloma", performed by Jesse Stanford, Jesse Newman, and Gabriel Lofvall, at La Paloma's closing celebration.