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The 'melting pot of St. Louis,' Coffee Cartel closes after 22 years

Coffee Cartel, Central West End, St. Louis, CWE
Rachel Heidenry
The Coffee Cartel, in St. Louis' Central West End, needed more than just neighborhood support.

The Coffee Cartel will close Tuesday after 22 years in the Central West End.

After a 36 percent drop in sales over the past two years, owner Dennis Gorg said Monday it wasn’t feasible for the business to stay open.

“There are a lot of small businesses in St. Louis and what a proud community we have to have such great small businesses, but you gotta get out and support them,” Gorg said.

The coffee and ice cream spot on the corner of Euclid and Maryland avenues was known for its outdoor seating. Gorg pointed to poor weather as one of many things that negatively impacted the business.

“We literally skipped spring this year and it seems that we’re skipping fall as well,” Gorg said. “We saw really a zero patio business this year, people just didn’t want to be out in the heat, when you go from winter literally to summer. We’ve even heard that many other businesses in this neighborhood that rely on the patio business have also seen similar decreases.”

Gorg said parking issues, increased panhandling and petty crime also contributed to The Coffee Cartel’s losses. But the evolution of the Central West End into a destination neighborhood also has meant consumers are more likely to eat at a specific restaurant, then leave.

“In the past, you might come down to the Central West End and you might window shop and go into a couple of the boutiques,” he said. “Then you might go have dinner and then you might come out of that dinner and then you might go to another business and have dessert. That doesn’t really happen anymore.”

Gorg said they considered relocating, but came to realize that the tradition of The Coffee Cartel is tied to the Central West End.

“I did look at other neighborhoods, but there’s no neighborhood like the Central West End, so I don’t know if we would have fared any better anywhere else,” Gorg said. “This neighborhood has been and does proudly support us and that’s a good thing, but it’s just not enough.”

For now, Gorg said he’s focused on making sure the coffee shop’s 12 full-time employees find new jobs. He admitted it's been tough to say goodbye, especially as the business served as a sort of community center in the Central West End, a safe space for the LGBTQ community, and sponsored 50 sports teams and supported more than 400 charities annually.

"I think we've been a good partner and good citizen, and for us that's the hard part, is knowing that some of those supports are going to leave," he said. "That's really what Cartel has been, a melting pot of St. Louis, organizations and people and groups as well. That's the sad part of this really."

Follow Wayne on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Follow Emma on Twitter: @ems_lorraine

Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.