On Tuesday, Vox Pop, the Ditmas Park coffee house and de facto community center, was closed down by the tax man for non-payment of back taxes. Now, it looks like it’s closure will be indefinite: according to Debi Ryan, its CEO and general manager, Vox Pop will not be able to re-open until Ryan can pay $10,000 to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. “I’ve been able to negotiate with them,” Ryan says, adding that the state was originally demanding $56,000 to remove the locks from Vox Pop’s door.
Ryan, who took over management of the cafe after its founder, Sander Hicks, departed earlier this year, says she is “trying to look at all these different angles” to come up with the funds. “We’re selling additional shares, and selling memberships in Vox Pop for $40,” she says. The membership includes a copy of the recently published Vox Pop book, which details the cafe’s five-year history, and free coffee refills. Ryan’s also looking into the possibility of a benefit concert and eBay auction .
The cafe’s shareholders, who earlier this year bought $64,000 worth of stock in Vox Pop to save it from closure by the Health Department, have reacted to its seizure “with dismay,” says Ryan. She explains that the cafe was closed in part because of the legacy debt handed down from Hicks, its previous owner, who seriously compromised Vox Pop’s finances after opening a second, under-capitalized location in the Bowery Poetry Club.
“Trying to pay off the old debt while continuing to pay bills can be a challenge,” Ryan says. “All of our profits go towards paying that debt. But it was our hierarchy of debt that the state didn’t agree with: we were paying off the people that needed it the most, like employees who were owed back pay and local vendors struggling to stay in business themselves. As a result the state was on the lower end of who had to get paid.”
Ryan doesn’t know when Vox Pop will re-open, only that it will be “as soon as possible. Every moment we’re closed is costing us revenue, and makes it more of a challenge.” She adds that the cafe’s Secret Santa drive for the local women and children’s shelter is still taking place at the space next door to the cafe, where she can be found “24 hours a day.
“I’m not leaving til we raise the money,” she says. “I’m open to any and all suggestions.”