Last Call at Caffé Pergolesi

“Don’t ask what is happening here — you already know. You can no longer afford to live here. You’ve been priced out and so have all your favorite places.”

[ Caffé Pergolesi, situated in a Victorian-era home at 418 Cedar Street in Santa Cruz, blurs the line between the downtown district and the historic district. August 10, 2017. ]

On August 9, news spread quickly that Santa Cruz’s oldest, best known, and most loved coffeehouse will shut their doors forever in two weeks, on August 26, 2017. Caffé Pergolesi, an institution of downtown Santa Cruz, holds a very special place in the hearts of so many people. Besides offering coffee, tea, beer, wine, cider, and snacks, the cafe is an important space for friends and groups to meet. Its walls serve as a gallery for local artists, and The Perg, as it’s known, is a one of a kind venue, particularly for punk and hardcore musicians.

Caffé Pergolesi is situated in a Victorian-era home at 418 Cedar Street, and blurs the line between the downtown district and the historic district, seeing as that it fits both bills. The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture explains that 418 Cedar Street is a one-story, raised-basement, 1886 cottage emblazoned with the legend “Dr. Miller.” Originally, this sign read “Dr. Miller, Dentist.” The Perg is comprised of several rooms, including a lobby, blue room, green room and orange room. The furniture is eclectic and comprises plush antique couches and church pews. A back porch is utilized by employees, while a wooden deck along Cedar Street is popular for outside seating.

People keep asking for reasons. Why is Caffé Pergolesi closing? Are they going to relocate? No, they are not going to open elsewhere. The short answer for why they are closing is that their lease was not renewed. Word on the street, mixed with speculation, is that the property owner wanted more money for rent than Karl Heiman, the owner for the past 15 years, was willing to pay.

According to the weekly publication GoodTimes, Heiman says his landlord declined to renew the lease. Heiman also mentioned a couple other factors which impacted his decision to close up shop. There has been a rise in competition, as more coffee shops continue popping up around town. Heiman also grieved about the City not providing support in regards to the people that congregate near the intersection of Cedar and Elm Streets, outside of Caffé Pergolesi. On August 26, Caffe Pergolesi’s final day, all items will be served with 1973 prices.

Vintage photo of 418 Cedar Street in Santa Cruz. On January 20, 1954 the “Dr. Miller House” was a dental office for Dr. J. P. Miller. Photo courtesy Caffé Pergolesi from the Covello & Covello historical photo collection.

Santa Cruz New Tech Makeover

Some locals, as well as other interests, were clearly not comfortable with the culture of the clientele. For example, Sara Puhl commented, “When it was behind the bookshop pre earthquake [1989] it was a very different place. Last time I went there I felt like I couldn’t sit and enjoy my coffee without being bothered. Sad to see these businesses closing but this one needed some change to thrive.”

I spoke with a regular customer at Caffé Pergolesi on August 10, the day after news broke. They asked to remain anonymous while sharing some thoughts on the pending closure, and other changes taking place in Santa Cruz. “All the things attractive about this city are being pushed out by the people attracted to it. The cultural landscape of artists and older leftism that made the town more livable, and pushed out corporate interests, is now being undermined by property owners and the moving in of tech. Small business owners are also very conservative here. Nothing short of collective ownership can stop this process.”

Wes Modes, a local artist focused on social practice, sculpture, performance and new media work, summed up the situation writing, “Perg is closing in two weeks. Don’t ask what is happening here — you already know the answer and you knew it when Bargain Barn closed and when Logos closed and Seven Bridges closed in the last few months. You knew it when American Apparel and Urban Outshitterd moved in and when Forever 21 took that corner. You should have known back when Trader Joe’s replaced the family market that was there or the county’s only drive-in movie closed. Or when all the funky shops got replaced with high-end boutiques and expensive bars and restaurants. The answer is you can no longer afford to live here. You’ve been priced out and so have all your favorite places.”

Many people are being impacted by the changes taking place in Santa Cruz. Folks that previously lived in town, as well as those that visited over the years, are also feeling saddened. The funky alternative counterculture community known as Santa Cruz, loved by so many people near and far, continues getting its capitalist corporate makeover from the university, technology, and tourism industries.

Although there is still much more to say, photos taken on August 10, 2017 on Ocean Street, Cedar Street, and Pacific Avenue, as well as a couple other spots in Santa Cruz, help tell more of the story. Santa Cruz continues losing the spaces that make it special and unique. It’s a story familiar to many other cities, and continues at an unrelenting pace.

The End Is Here

In an open letter to local customers and friends, John Livingston of Logos Books and Records announced that after 48 years in business, the largest independent used book and music store on the central coast of California was hosting a retirement sale prior to closing their doors forever. The legendary two floor store on Pacific Avenue proudly declares, “Before Ebay, before Amazon, there was LOGOS doing it better for over 40 years. The best of the best in new and used books, music and more…”

Two floors of Logos Books and Records at 1117 Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. August 10, 2017.

Jedzebel, a fair trade clothing and accessories company operating in Santa Cruz for over twenty years, announced on August 10 that they are going out of business as well. In an public statement, Jedzebel owners Janet and Ed Croteau wrote, “Thank you for your patronage – but it’s time for us to move on. We still have a lot of great deals available and will be closing permanently in the next few weeks so come on in while you still can!” Jedzebel says they have “been bringing fun and funky fashion to some of the coolest shops in the US, Japan, Canada, and Latin America for over 15 years.”

On June 2, Seven Bridges Organic Brewing Supply declared, “The end is here. Tomorrow, Saturday June 3rd, Seven Bridges will be open from 10 am – 4 pm. Come in on our LAST DAY and take advantage of these incredible deals. Everything is AT LEAST 50% OFF! We have lots of hops! We have brew kettles, we have silicone tubing, and bottle caps, and cheese kits and cultures, cleaning supplies, kegs, better bottles, brushes, books, wort chillers, wide mouth demijohns, wine yeast, green coffee, scales, thermometers, wine testing kits, lab glass, funnels, organic corn sugar, wine additives and more! And we have Seven Bridges T shirts and pint glasses so you can remember us fondly. COME ON DOWN AND LETS MAKE A DEAL.”

Goodwill’s Bargain Outlet relocated in July 2017 from the Harvey West area of Santa Cruz to Salinas. It was known as the Bargain Barn, a warehouse type structure behind the Goodwill processing plant on Pioneer Street. After processing the donations and distributing the higher-quality items to Goodwill stores in the area, the surplus donations came to the Bargain Barn. Customers could fill a standard size grocery bag with as many items as possible, and then pay a flat rate of five dollars.

Union Grove Music was located at 1003 Pacific Avenue, next to the Catalyst Club. After more than 40 years of supporting local musicians, Richard Gellis and Union Grove Music closed their doors for a final time in December 2016. Union Grove originally opened in 1972, and was Santa Cruz’s oldest and largest music store.

A Caffé Pergolesi gallery on flickr contains a trove of historical information and photos shared by Don Cochrane, as well as other photographers.

This article was composed in fond memory and appreciation of Caffé Pergolesi. Feel free to post a comment sharing a memory of Caffé Pergolesi, or the Santa Cruz you loved. Other additions, as well as corrections, are also welcome.

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.

13 thoughts on “Last Call at Caffé Pergolesi”

  1. THANK YOU so much for reporting on this. It’s wonderful to see independent reporting like this that shows so much concern for the community. I liked to consider Santa Cruz my real home (though I am no longer there, can’t afford it, unsurprisingly), but in about the last year and half it’s nearly unrecognizable. It really is heartbreaking. Even more so when I think “what can I do?” and realize that, historically, there’s little, if anything, that will stop gentrification.
    My favorite Perg memory is meeting Eliquate there 🙂
    Thanks again for these stories

  2. I moved 10 years ago to Oregon, visiting Perg’s was a big part of coming home. Ever since the earthquake the transformation of Santa Cruz into “New Carmelville™” has been slow and steady… seems that transition is now complete.

  3. I have so many fond memories of Santa Cruz and chilling at the Perg! The evening venue was a great place to showcase local talent. My last memory was of the singing trio, “Mayim.” What was that, like 15 years ago?? I still remember the magic of their voices as if it was yesterday. Alas, no more sitting on the porch watching the world go by. Now the world will just go on without it.

  4. When I moved to Santa Cruz in 1989, I walked up the steps of this café and was welcomed by a local Woman who was knitting. She was kind, and we sat and had coffee and got to no one another. There were no cell phones, or tech industry overwhelm. We just sat and spoke with folks around and we’re comfortable and happy with the community. Santa Cruz was welcoming, and the energy was kind, loving and beautiful. Pacific Avenue mall was affordable and the shops for love in the musicians were allowed to play music outside. The gift of Santa Cruz was Grace. Allowing for all walks of people. The farmers market was on Pacific and many women were walking topless and it was welcomed then. I’ve lived here 27 years, going on 28 and I miss the old Santa Cruz vibration. My memory of the goodness and love that prevailed in Santa Cruz will never leave. When my daughter goes to college, I will also move away and look for another small town to reside and flourish. Thank you old town Santa Cruz for gifting me many years of friendship, employment and blessings. I am grateful.

  5. My son lived close by and worked at LOGOS and THE RED. His life was so enriched by Downtown Santa Cruz. He is still in touch with many of his friends from Santa Cruz and he and Stuart and others are trying to fight the same effects in SF and Oakland..Mill Valley changed…will Fairfax be next? Petaluma has picked up some of the Santa Cruz flavor. I am HORRIFIED by the loss of LOGOS and these precious places in my son’s life and his world view. GRATEFUL TO THE SANTA CRUZ THAT WAS.

  6. I grew up in Santa Cruz, and brought the man I married home to live there…But despite our income of almost 90,000 a year, we could only afford to live in a studio. 400 Square feet can feel pretty small when you welcome a baby, so we looked for a year and realized that buying a 500,000 dump would be a waste of our money. I said goodbye to the place I grew up, and also to the things I really loved, like the old flavor of the city. The poor and the rich at odds in a small space is NOT what Santa Cruz was ever about. It was about chilling out and being weirded out, seeing things you didn’t know you were missing- like protests on the street, and music on every corner. Random human beauty, all being driven out by greedy landlording, small minded people who just don’t like to see humans living on the edge. But, no one is to blame but the people of Santa Cruz, who let this happen. I moved to a nicer beach, with nicer people, and paid 1/10 of the price to actually own my own home- and Santa Cruz lost an artist, model, and writer who was born there and would have loved to have raised her children there- just like it will lose all it’s artists and all it’s free thinkers- replaced by a bunch of tight wads who drink starbucks, who will then slink into some other organic and creative place they can suck the life out of.
    RIP Santa Cruz.

  7. Pergs is/was a refuge for radicals of all types: anarchists, academics, musicans, poets, visual artists, punk rockers, hippies, djs, dancers, queers, and people of color. It is/was one of the last few places in Santa Cruz where you can/could start a conversation with a person at the table next to you and leave with a warm feeling in your heart, or sit alone with a book and not necessarily feel so lonely. Where will the kind, tender-hearted freaks go now?! What will they do?

  8. I like how you glazed over the fact that transients and drug dealers were a big problem for the property owner. Maybe read the sentinel? We’re all upset but I’d rather take the word of a newspaper over idle gossip…

  9. I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for almost 24 years and The Perg is the best coffee house in Santa Cruz period!

  10. It’s not Starbucks or gentrification that shut these doors. It’s simply other locally owned coffee shops with better coffee, better service, and brighter, less crusty ambience. Basically they got booted by younger tryhards.

    I have mostly neutral memories of this place as a student in the 90’s, when I had a choice between Perg, Java House, the SC Roasting Company stall at the bus station, and whatever that place at the end of Pacific was called before it was Lulu Carpenters. It had plenty of outdoor tables, decent coffee comparatively… and you could smoke. That was about it, though.

    Times changed, the coffee got better elsewhere, and this place stayed frozen in the grunge era.

    I’ve popped into Perg on occasion and ordered some depressing coffee after minutes of waiting for the crazy in front of me to clear the line, then sitting on a couch that smelled like BO and admiring the student art on the grungy walls. The nostalgia did not wash over me, and the vibe of the place was mostly a downer.

    It was a decent study space in its day, a pretty good hub for groups to gather & chat before heading to the night’s venue, but I don’t think it took much for people to start finding other places because, to be honest, this was mostly just a tolerable coffee pit that got grosser and darker with time. I’m not surprised that the lights are finally going out.

  11. This is all so very sad! I knew it was coming when you could no longer ride a horse on the 7th Ave. beach. The earthquake sealed the deal. Corporations came in and swooped up properties and changed the landscape forever. It’s been almost 17 years since I made my escape, but I still long for the good old days.

  12. Rest in Peace local owned and operated companies corporations are here and they planned this takeover. Rest in peace peacelovers and protesters. Death is corporates way of life. Rest in peace bartering and caring and giving. Big money is here and isn’t going anywhere.
    These are all changes in our world today. We can all thank the “new generation”. Yeah you know the ones. The ones we all tried to “protect” from “those people”. We did this to ourselves AND can only blame ourselves.
    BTW the crusty outersurface has always been there. Only recently did it become “out of hand” with the influx of “higher class” uncaring people and companies moving into town. I have lived here since 2000 and never have I seen the hatred between classes as I do now. I am friends with both sides of “those people” and hear daily complaints about “them”. I pose to you this question are you a talker or a doer? Why not both?
    It is with great sadness and pride that I must announce that I, Marcus Shane Kelly, do plan my run for City Council in the year 2018. This city needs to reunify. We need Reconciliation. WE NEED A REAL CITY COUNCIL!!!!!!! One that will take this city by the balls and say no more big box companies. No more large corporations. We want our city back. This is not TRUMPville, this is Santa Cruz.

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