By Midge Pierce
As tributes to the now shuttered Café au Play pour in literally from up and down the West Coast, neighbors question what the future holds for the former coffee house, play area, music and community center.
After nearly 10 years of operation, the café suddenly closed on December 6 to the dismay of regulars and frequent out-of-towners who viewed the popular facility as a model for community cooperation and gathering. Neighbors were shocked and saddened.
The café and adjacent Tabor Commons were built largely through the physical efforts of neighbors, a dozen formal fundraisers and participation in countless neighborhood events that raised more than $24,000 in donations from local families.
Founder Kristen Heying said she started the cafe as a place to meet other parents and for young children to gather. She urges a new generation of parents and neighbors to step up to plan the site’s future.
Heying indicated it was not a funding crises that caused the sudden closure but rather a combination of factors that included unexpected staff shortages, an unsustainable operational model and the burnout that can accompany nonprofits.
A web post indicated, “The goal from the beginning was for Café operations to be self-sustaining. Last year we came close to that target, but the trend lines since that time indicate that this goal is unlikely to be reached…” It was time to reassess.
“We have also come to the realization that many of the services offered by Café au Play, while valuable and innovative when first envisioned in 2004, are now available in other venues.
“The first generation of leaders who founded and built Café au Play, and whose children are now teens, have not been replaced by a new generation of young parents willing to carry the Café au Play vision forward.”
A generation of local children will carry memories of “the sandbox and playhouse, hiding in the cozy space under the big tree, exploring the basalt rocks…”
Activities like a new fathers’ group, parenting workshops, farmers markets, birthday parties will be remembered along with the artwork gallery, performance space and Barista training program that served as a “stepping stone to employment”.
Most of all, locals will scatter to catch up with the groups who performed at the café like Micah and Me and Olive and Dingo.
The café replaced a business with a tawdry history first as a gas station and later, as a deli seized by the federal government for selling drug-making ingredients to dealers.
Located across from Atkinson Elementary School on the corner of SE 57th and Division, the site is near an area in the cross-airs of development.
On the Cafe au Play website, Heying offered last thoughts, extensive thank yous and hope for the future.
“As we go through the visioning process again for Tabor Commons, a new idea will develop and a new place will exist.”
To get involved sign up on this google form: goo.gl/forms/RIqriUC9N9.
Excerpts from Heying’s posting are below:
“My daughter is 15 years old now and she was 3 when I started Cafe au Play. She is beginning to understand this truth – life is full of roadblocks and it is how you handle those roadblocks that make you stronger and wiser.
“During this journey, I have had the opportunity to work with board members, staff, community members, business owners, volunteers and family members that truly cared about helping Cafe au Play succeed.
“The people that offer support when you reach out your hand for help, make the struggle and challenge worthwhile. Working with my father to level the concrete floor and helping the contractor dig dirt for the placement of the basalt rocks are memories that I will have forever.
“Seeing Cafe au Play transform over the years has taught me that if you want to change something, you can by bringing people together to make that change.”
The other part to all of this is how important it is to step up and do your part. Cafe au Play was not created by one person, it was created by thousands of people.
“We all need to do our part so places like Cafe au Play have the opportunity to thrive.”