NEWBURYPORT – Commune Cafe, a popular Pleasant Street cafe and social hub, will soon be sold or close due to revenue losses caused by the pandemic.
In a press release emailed to the Daily News, cafe owner Bruce Vogel pointed to a drop in business due to the pandemic as well as his landlord’s reluctance to give him a break on rent payments as reasons for wanting to sell the coffee.
The space is listed for sale by North of Boston Restaurant Group broker Heather Perkins for an asking price of $150,000. According to the company’s website, rent for the approximately 1,800 square foot cafe is around $5,000 per month. The listing also indicates that Commune’s sales for 2019 reached $580,000.
But if the business doesn’t sell “very soon,” Vogel said it will have to close.
“If I can’t sell it quickly it will close,” said Vogel, who bought the business five years ago and renamed it Commune – 17 years after it began life on Pleasant Street as the by Caffe Di Siena.
“It’s not something I do because I want to,” Vogel added. “I’m doing this because I have no choice.”
Vogel, a Newburyport councilman who also owns Plum Island Coffee Roasters and Soufflés, said in the statement that business suffered in part because Commune, unlike its other stores, was not as take-out friendly. Additionally, Vogel cited the “firmness” of its owner, Dan Abdulla.
“After all, the name of the place is Commune – it’s a verb – and without us offering a place to do so, we are not the same destination,” Vogel said in the statement. “Also, without the cooperation of my landlord, committing to the cost of creating the partitions necessary to comply with the distancing rules is simply not an option.”
The commune closed when the pandemic first hit in mid-March, and Vogel said in the statement that he had been unable to pay his rent since April.
The cafe reopened at the end of June, but Vogel said he was making only a third of the cafe’s normal profits and that “there has not been enough business to meet the demands of the high rent, loan debt and payroll at pre-COVID level.” .”
Vogel said that although he received money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program in April, he was only able to cover his expenses for the previous month.
He also said in the statement that in February, Abdulla informed him that he had missed his lease renewal deadline. And in recent months, Vogel said he had tried to reach a lease agreement with Abdulla, but the landlord had barely responded.
“I’m really sad to see this thing shut down. … It’s still just a buzz point, and I think it’s really sad that I can’t find a solution to keep it going,” Vogel said. “I haven’t paid the rent, I admit that. But we were closed for three months. … I’ve paid him over $300,000 in the last five years, I can’t go on with this.”
In an interview with The Daily News on Friday, Abdulla expressed his frustration with Vogel’s reluctance to pay him rent over the past few months and said he stopped communicating with him because their conversations “were not not productive,” adding that Vogel “wants everything for nothing.”
“He hasn’t paid me a dime since March. I also have a mortgage on that building, and I just can’t pay my mortgage,” Abdulla said. “Bruce thinks because he’s going through a tough time he doesn’t have to pay anything, but that’s not the case.”
Abdulla also noted Vogel’s decision not to open Commune until June — a decision that Vogel said was influenced by a staff shortage and the building’s limitations on social distancing.
“He was able to open but he chose not to,” Abdulla said. “Because of his bad decision, I don’t think it should be my responsibility to forgive his rent.”
Vogel said two Commune staff members had expressed interest in buying the business, but Abdulla was unwilling to discuss financing with potential buyers.
Vogel did not give a deadline for selling the business, after which he will simply close it, but said that day could be “very soon”.
Writer Jack Shea can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.