State Seizes Vox Pop, but not its Spirit

Print Friendly
Share

By Richard Nieva
Like most businesses, the Vox Pop café in Flatbush stayed closed last Thanksgiving. Its mostly young staff was able to spend the day with their families. But for many of the café’s regulars, the day off was more like a day with nowhere to go.

State seizes Vox Pop, but not its spirit/ 1,548 145988 words
By Richard Nieva
Like most businesses, the Vox Pop café in Flatbush stayed closed last
Thanksgiving. Its mostly young staff was able to spend the day with their
families. But for many of the café’s regulars, the day off was more like a day with
nowhere to go.
So instead of meeting at the store, they met at CEO Debi Ryan’s house to
celebrate the holiday.
“It ended up being this wonderful collection of Vox Pop people,” Ryan
said. She uses the term “Vox Pop People” like a formal identifier, almost like a
last name. The 6x-year-old café has been described as a book publisher, music
venue and center for political activists.
Now the Vox Pop People will have to find another place to spend the other
364 days of the year.
It officially closed for good on Sept. 7 when a committee of board
members from the community voted to dissolve the company.
“We tried,” said Ryan. “Nobody could have tried harder, I promise you
that.”
***
It isn’t the first time the Vox Pop People have had to look for other places to
spend their time. The business has been shut down four times before—the first
time by the Department of Health and the last three times by the state of New
York for back taxes.
“The glory days were, I guess, any days it was open,” laughed Tim Olsen,
chairman of the board.
The café, at 1022 Cortelyou Rd., was originally established in 2004
by Sander Hicks and his then-fiancé Holley Anderson. Hicks, a leftist writer
and “truther” with the 9/11 Truth Movement, started the café as a response to
the “blind war on terror mentality that taught fear instead of first amendment
rights,” he said. The café had a publishing arm which produced a newspaper until
2008,[for how long? Still exists?] going after core New York City corruption, said
Hicks.
Olsen recalled the neighborhood before the cafe set up shop. He
remembers emptiness on Cortelyou Road when at the time the café began. , with
more businesses popping up afterwards. The Picket Fences restaurant opened
around the same time, but and more businesses, places like the Sycamore and the
Solo bar, came after.
The startup money, about $80,000, came largely from an inheritance
Anderson got from the sale of a family ’s mother farm after her mother passed
away. [come on: how much—at least approximately. You’ve got to ask questions]
When she passed away, her family sold the farm she owned in Connecticut,
and that seed money was the beginning of Vox Pop. The children’s nook in the
back of the café was built with original wood from the farm’s barn [house, barn?
Details, details].
Ryan described the cafe as a safe haven, both not just figuratively. and
literally.
“That was a long walk from the train station, all the way down there, in
the dark with nothing in between,” she said, referring to the Q line, about four
blocks away. “Getting to that corner, you knew it was going to be busy and safe
and sort of a beacon.”
Kati Duncan, shareholder and secretary of the board, said Vox
Pop—which literally means “voice of the people” was about its customers.
The business’s mantra, “Books, Coffee, Democracy,” resonated
for a lot ofwith its customers, said William Cerf, a 64-year-old regular.
When tThe store’s icon was , a beloved five- to a six-foot Statue of
Liberty. The statue stood in the storefront until it was destroyed by vandals in
summer 2009. People were distraught, said Cerf. A donated by a West Village
restaurant donated a replacement, and a group of about fifty customersnd
hauled toit to Vox Pop over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot byby subway and
hand cart. that The statue stood in the storefront until it, was destroyed by
vandals in summer 2009. People were , the community was distraught, said Cerf.
The restaurant One If By Land Two If By Sea in the West Village agreed
to donate their statue to Vox Pop. A group of customers took the subway to
Manhattan to retrieve it, and walked the eight miles on foot back to Cortelyou.
About 50 people marched through the city, across the Brooklyn Bridge, pushing
Lady Liberty on a dolly on the gorgeous summer day, said Cerf.
He likened the café to where the real statue stands on New York
Harbor. “It’s a place for a new beginning,” he said.
The café had regular, eclectic, evening programming: Open mic night was
on Sunday. Monday was jazz night and Tuesday was blues. Wednesday was indy
film night, organized by Rick Menello, co-screenwriter of the 2008 film “Two
Lovers,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. Thursday showcased
local musicians and Friday and Saturday were for produced concerts. Every third
Saturday of the month was reserved for comedy, karaoke and all-ages shows
mainly for teens. Alcohol was not served on those nights.
The daytime was for children’s programming, including drum circles and
sing-alongs for kids and parents.
It also was the catalyst ignition point [or find a better expression] for many
a relationship.
Greg Di Gesu met his future wife Nancy Campbell the first night he
walked in. Di Gesu, a 45-year-old singer-songwriter from Jersey City, was sitting
at a table with a full pitcher of beer and empty glasses after performing, waiting
for some friends.
“He offered Campbell, a manager at the time, a glass of wine beer[???]
. She accepted. Six years later, last July, they were married. “I had finished my
set, so it wasn’t even like I wooed her with my music,” he laughed. He offered
Campbell, a manager at the time, a glass. She accepted the glass. Six years later,
last July, they were married.
***
But unlike that couple’s happy narrative, other parts of Vox Pop’s story aren’t so
neatly wrapped up.
The store has been physically closed since Aug. 24, when the state seized
all of Vox Pop’s assets for over $133,000 in IRS and New York State back taxes,
according to an email sent to shareholders. Agents padlocked the doors so the
staff couldn’t take anything out of the store. The state auctioned those assets
publicly on Sept. 15.
The businessVox Pop had 211 shareholders who owned a piece of the
company, most of them from the community, investing $100 to $200.[how much
did they invest? Typically?] most of whom are from the community. The money
gone, and little sentiment in favor of putting in more money to reopen Vox Pop,
the shareholders on Sept. 7[date] They overwhelmingly voted in support of what
was known asof “Option 4,” to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy and dissolve the
company.
Each of the board’s business options were laid out in an email sent to all
shareholders. The store has been physically closed since Aug. 24, when the state
seized all of Vox Pop’s assets for over $133,000 in IRS and New York State back
taxes, according to the email. Agents padlocked the doors so the staff couldn’t
take anything out of the store. The state auctioned those assets publicly on Sept.
15.
Hicks said he was great at raising money—he mentioned his record as
raising $50,000 in one night, $25k from two investors—but bad at managing debt.
Hicks admitted that they the business didn’t take city agencies and
regulations too seriously when first starting out.
“We just got off on the wrong foot with the Department of Health, so there
was always a debt there to manage,” he said.
In one day in 2008xxxx, the He did suspect unfair play by the Department
of Health levied fines totaling $14,000. That was just when after the café
established itself as a radical n independent voice in the community, citing
$14,000 in fines in one day.and Hicks suspects there was a connection.
Hicks said he was great at raising money—he mentioned his record as
raising $50,000 in one night, $25k from two investors—but bad at managing debt.
Heicks said e brought Ryan aboard as CFO to help fix the financial
situation. She took over as CEO in early 2009, when Hicks left the company for a
job offer offer in sustainable investing.
When management changed hands, Vox Pop was around $184,000 in debt
from back sales taxes, Department of Health fines, and employee back debt, said
Ryan.
Prices were kept intentionally low, said Ryan. Bottled beer was $3 while
drafts were $5. “We know the economy is hard. We know that you need to go out,
too,” said Ryan. “So we’re going to try our best to keep it affordable as possible.”
Maybe too affordable, sShe also admitted. to that being one of their
downfalls.
One difference between Hicks and Ryan was At one point, in 2008,
Hicks ’ plans for growth, which he explored with a small foray intothe idea
of franchising Vox Popin 2008. The company experimented with a Manhattan
location inside Heicks leased a space to sell food and coffee in the lobby of the
Bowery Poetry Club, nearby the now-defunct legendary punk club CBGB in
Manhattan. Hicks leased a space in the lobby of the Poetry Club, serving food and
coffee. The venture was unsuccessful, closeding later thatwithin a year.
“Oh, my Waterloo,” said Hicks, referring to the Bowery location. “Next
question,” he laughed.
Ryan’s goal was to keep it more tailor Vox Poped to the Ditmas Park
community. When she took over management, she tempered down the leftist
political tone. “What you had to say, to me, was not as important as the fact that
you had something to say.” Ryan said. “Every opinion was valid.”
She joked that the state shut them down every quarter.
They would close for two weeks at a time when they got shut down—
meaning two weeks without revenue, and restocking two weeks worth of food and
drinks, all the while interest and penalties growing, said Ryan.
But when the state came knocking the last time, in on Aug. 24ust [??]],
she gave up.
“No more,” she said. “How many times are we going to do this? Nobody
invested in Vox Pop to become rich.”
“But at what point do you say, ‘No more?’” she asked.
Ryan stated said that as of the time of the final closing, all indebted
employees and vendors at the Cortelyou location have been paid.
Hicks said he he was not asked to come back, but said he cwcould have
tried to raise money to save Vox Pop again, but he was not asked. , though he is
not sure it would have helped.
The final debt at the time of closing was $246,647.
The Vox Pop People are now looking for another place to call home. Cerf
said a few of the customers are working on a new project. It is tentatively called
the Cortelyou Community Center. They will heold a meeting Monday night at the
Qathra café at 1112 Cortelyou Rd.
While they are looking for a building to gather in, Ryan said that is not as
important as the spirit of the people. She recalled Vox Pop’s last open mic night
in early September[when? Give the day. Details!!!], held outside the store because
after it had already been padlocked.
Amidst all the singing and dancing, it was like “being at your own
funeral,” she said.
“We realized what we’d succeeded in doing was, even without the brick
and mortar to hold it together, we’d built a community,” she said.

By Richard Nieva

The Vox Pop cafe.

Vox Pop, a cafe at 1022 Cortelyou Rd., officially closed on Sept. 7. The neighborhood landmark has also been described as a book publisher, music venue, and center for activists. (The Brooklyn Ink/Richard Nieva)

Like most businesses, the Vox Pop café in Flatbush stayed closed last Thanksgiving. Its mostly young staff was able to spend the day with their families. But for many of the café’s regulars, the day off was more like a day with nowhere to go.

So instead of meeting at the store, they met at CEO Debi Ryan’s house to celebrate the holiday.

“It ended up being this wonderful collection of Vox Pop people,” Ryan said. She uses the term “Vox Pop People” like a formal identifier, almost like a last name. The 6-year-old café has been described as a book publisher, music venue and center for political activists.

Now the Vox Pop People will have to find another place to spend the other 364 days of the year.

It officially closed for good on Sept. 7 when a committee of board members from the community voted to dissolve the company.

“We tried,” said Ryan. “Nobody could have tried harder, I promise you that.”

***

It isn’t the first time the Vox Pop People have had to look for other places to spend their time. The business has been shut down four times before—the first time by the Department of Health and the last three times by the state of New York for back taxes.

“The glory days were, I guess, any days it was open,” laughed Tim Olsen, chairman of the board.

The café, at 1022 Cortelyou Rd., was originally established in 2004 by Sander Hicks and his then-fiancé Holley Anderson. Hicks, a leftist writer and “truther” with the 9/11 Truth Movement, started the café as a response to the “blind war on terror mentality that taught fear instead of first amendment rights,” he said. The café had a publishing arm which produced a newspaper until 2008, going after New York City corruption, said Hicks.

Olsen remembers emptiness on Cortelyou Road at the time the café began.  The Picket Fence restaurant opened around the same time, and more businesses,  like the Sycamore and the Solo bar, came after.

The startup money, about $80,000, came largely from an inheritance Anderson got from the sale of a family farm after her mother passed away. The children’s nook in the back of the café was built with original wood from the farm’s barn.

Ryan described the cafe as a safe haven, not just figuratively.

“That was a long walk from the train station, all the way down there, in the dark with nothing in between,” she said, referring to the Q line, about four blocks away. “Getting to that corner, you knew it was going to be busy and safe and sort of a beacon.”

Kati Duncan, shareholder and secretary of the board, said Vox Pop—which literally means “voice of the people”was about its customers.

The business’s mantra, “Books, Coffee, Democracy,” resonated with its customers, said William Cerf, a 64-year-old regular.

The store’s icon was  a six-foot Statue of Liberty. The statue stood in the storefront until it was destroyed by vandals in summer 2009. People were distraught, said Cerf. A West Village restaurant donated a replacement, and a group of about fifty customers hauled it to Vox Pop over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot by hand cart.

He likened the café to where the real statue stands on New York Harbor. “It’s a place for a new beginning,” he said.

The café had regular, eclectic, evening programming: Open mic night was on Sunday. Monday was jazz night and Tuesday was blues. Wednesday was indy film night, organized by Rick Menello, co-screenwriter of the 2008 film “Two Lovers,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. Thursday showcased local musicians and Friday and Saturday were for produced concerts. Every third Saturday of the month was reserved for comedy, karaoke and all-ages shows mainly for teens. Alcohol was not served on those nights.

The daytime was for children’s programming, including drum circles and sing-alongs for kids and parents.

It also was the catalyst for many a relationship.

Greg Di Gesu met his future wife Nancy Campbell the first night he walked in. Di Gesu, a 45-year-old singer-songwriter from Jersey City, was sitting at a table with a full pitcher of beer and empty glasses after performing, waiting for some friends.

He offered Campbell, a manager at the time, a glass of beer. She accepted. Six years later, last July, they were married. “I had finished my set, so it wasn’t even like I wooed her with my music,” he laughed.

***

But unlike that couple’s happy narrative, other parts of Vox Pop’s story aren’t so neatly wrapped up.

The store has been physically closed since Aug. 24, when the state seized all of Vox Pop’s assets for over $133,000 in IRS and New York State back taxes, according to an email sent to shareholders. Agents padlocked the doors so the staff couldn’t take anything out of the store. The state auctioned those assets publicly on Sept. 15.

Vox Pop had 211 shareholders who owned a piece of the company, most of them from the community, investing $100 to $200. The money gone, and little sentiment in favor of putting in more money to reopen Vox Pop, the shareholders on Sept. 7 overwhelmingly voted in support of “Option 4,” to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy and dissolve the company.

Hicks said he was great at raising money—he mentioned his record as raising $50,000 in one night, $25k from two investors—but bad at managing debt.

Hicks admitted that the business didn’t take city agencies and regulations too seriously when first starting out.

“We just got off on the wrong foot with the Department of Health, so there was always a debt there to manage,” he said.

In one day in 2008, the Department of Health levied fines totaling $14,000. That was just when  the café established itself as a radical  independent voice in the community, and Hicks suspects there was a connection.

He brought Ryan aboard to help fix the financial situation. She took over as CEO in early 2009, when Hicks left the company for a job offer in sustainable investing.

When management changed hands, Vox Pop was around $184,000 in debt from back sales taxes, Department of Health fines, and employee back debt, said Ryan.

Prices were kept intentionally low, said Ryan. Bottled beer was $3 while drafts were $5. “We know the economy is hard. We know that you need to go out, too,” said Ryan. “So we’re going to try our best to keep it affordable as possible.”

Maybe too affordable, she admitted.

At one point, in 2008, Hicks explored the idea of franchising Vox Pop. He leased a space to sell food and coffee in the lobby of the Bowery Poetry Club, nearby the now-defunct legendary punk club CBGB in Manhattan. The venture closed within a year.

“Oh, my Waterloo,” said Hicks, referring to the Bowery location. “Next question,” he laughed.

Ryan’s goal was to tailor Vox Pop to the Ditmas Park community. When she took over management, she tempered down the leftist political tone. “What you had to say, to me, was not as important as the fact that you had something to say.” Ryan said. “Every opinion was valid.”

She joked that the state shut them down every quarter.

They would close for two weeks at a time when they got shut down—meaning two weeks without revenue, and restocking two weeks worth of food and drinks, all the while interest and penalties growing, said Ryan.

But when the state came knocking the last time on Aug. 24, she gave up.

“No more,” she said. “How many times are we going to do this? Nobody invested in Vox Pop to become rich.”

Ryan said employees and vendors at the Cortelyou location have been paid. Hicks said he could have tried to raise money to save Vox Pop again, but he was not asked.

The final debt at the time of closing was $246,647.

The Vox Pop People are now looking for another place to call home. Cerf said a few of the customers are working on a new project, tentatively called the Cortelyou Community Center. They held a meeting Monday night at the Qathra café at 1112 Cortelyou Rd.

While they are looking for a building to gather in, Ryan said that is not as important as the spirit of the people. She recalled Vox Pop’s last open mic night in early September, held outside the store after it had already been padlocked.

Amidst all the singing and dancing, it was like “being at your own funeral,” she said.

“We realized what we’d succeeded in doing was, even without the brick and mortar to hold it together, we’d built a community,” she said.

,

4 Responses to “State Seizes Vox Pop, but not its Spirit”

  1. Benjamin
    October 11, 2010 at 4:42 AM #

    Positively go along whatever you reported. Your favorite justification appeared to be obviously the perfect to appreciate. I convey to you, I continually get irked any time people focus on challenges that they simply are not aware of about. You were able to hit the nail right on the head also referred to out all the things with out complications. , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  2. Tyler McLaughlin
    November 3, 2010 at 2:36 PM #

    Excellent article Richard; thank you for this. I live in Georgetown, TX & had the fortunate opportunity to experience the Vox Pop & meet some of the community this past August. The experience was spiritual. Here’s the story of how I ended up @ the Vox.

    The Time: July 15, 2010
    The Place: St. John USVI on a “man” trip with my dad and brother

    I’m sitting on the beach at Saltpond Bay, hastily cracking a coconut open in an attempt to offer a drink to the couple strolling along the beach. The couple as it turns out, were Greg Di Gesu and his newlywed lovely wife Nancy Campbell; on their honeymoon. The typical “where do you live”, “what are you doing here” introductions were exchanged. As we talked, Greg and I uncovered our similar passions for creating music. Coincidentally, I was going to be 30 minutes from Greg in Nancy in a couple weeks for a business trip to Manhattan in August. We exchanged contact information, parted ways and found ourselves that evening tuned into one another’s websites listening to each other’s melodies.

    A few days after meeting, Greg emails me an itinerary of shows he’s got lined up for us to play while I’m in town on business. WOW! How cool is this guy?

    The stage was set… August 14th “Greg D’s Odds & Ends” at the Vox Pop Cafe.
    http://blog.tylerswire.com/tyler-mclaughlin-live-the-vox-pop-cafe-brooklyn-ny-sat-august-14-2010.htm

    My wife and I flew into JFK that Saturday & made our way into Manhattan to drop our luggage hotel, grabbed my guitar and hopped on the Q train for Brooklyn. We were in the Flatbush a couple hours early and had a wonderful time walking around seeing the old Victorian style homes, the Co-op and of course the Vox. I remember first coming up on the place and getting this amazing sense of friendship & community. There were people sitting outside everywhere… talking, reading, drinking & eating. It was like a little piece of wonderland – and I was going to get to play there in a couple hours. The flyer I’d made for the gig and emailed to Greg was posted outside on the posting board; I thought it was cool anyway :) Greg pulled up about an hour pre-show-time & got busy preparing the stage; he was in his zone. The vibe in that little place was pure love; from every corner.

    There was a generator outside, powering the place. A large fan just inside the door in front by the stage that was pulling in air from the outside; that door lead out to where the generator was cranking away. There was one light on the stage – one of those old school tin hat looking ones; with the clip on it. The rest of the place was lit by candlelight; it was a buttery warm atmosphere. One of the walls of the stage was plum full of really great books. There were pictures of JFK and MLK hanging next to each other just above the bookshelves. The infamous Vox Pop sign hung on the back wall, in its black & white glory… up against a rusty-red wall.

    Greg D opened the stage by presenting his first “Greg D’s Odds & Ends” series; followed by The Realside (Terry McClain, Chris Neuhaus & Nathan Glass) myself and then Both (Jen Hoopes & Gian Carlo Feleppa). The musicians I played alongside were amazing; it was a very humbling experience. Thank you Greg, Debi Ryan, Tim Olsen, Sander Hicks, Holley Anderson & all of the community members who supported such a loving & magical space.

    8pm – Greg D (Brooklyn, NY) … http://www.gregsounds.com
    9pm – The Realside (Albany, NY) … http://www.delvinshadepublishing.com
    10pm – Tyler McLaughlin (Austin, TX) … http://www.tylermclaughlinmusic.com
    11pm – Both (Brooklyn, NY) … come out to hear!

    Here are some of the pictures taken from that evening at the Vox pop.

  3. Tyler McLaughlin
    November 3, 2010 at 2:46 PM #

    Looks like the attempt to embed the pictures as a picasaweb slideshow failed. Here’s a link to them:

    http://picasaweb.google.com/tylerswire/TheVoxPopCafeAug142010?feat=directlink

    Thanks again for the article Richard… an excellent piece of justice.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Brownstoner: Thursday Blogwrap - October 7, 2010

    [...] Book Drive at Blue Feather Elementary School [MP.net] BB Guide for Picky Eaters [Brooklyn Based] State Seizes Vox Pop, But Not Its Spirit [TBI] Vote for Crown Heights! [ILFA] Photo by [...]

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.