Coffeehouse-Bookstore Closing, But New Owner Plans To Reopen In The Spring
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
December 25, 2007
Luis Cotto sat in an unlit La Paloma Sabanera Monday and reflected on the past 3½ years.
The popular coffeehouse and bookstore was closed for Christmas, but on Friday it will do so for good.
"The regular reason, money. No secret there," Cotto replied when asked about the decision to shut down the popular neighborhood hangout at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Babcock Street. "We were always on the ledge, holding on."
Named after an endangered Puerto Rican pigeon, La Paloma failed financially. But in the hearts of Cotto and his three sisters, who shared a dream of opening a place where Latin American literature, culture and artistry could shine, it was a success.
On Monday Cotto also measured La Paloma's worth in the number of diverse groups who used its space to talk, watch a movie or share art, music and poetry.
"So many different communities had a place they could call their own, from poets to politicians to professors," Cotto said.
In an e-mail Cotto sent out Sunday night, he thanked dozens of them, including neighborhood groups, Trinity College, Ned Lamont's U.S. Senate campaign and the Melville Family Trust, which provided a grant last year that allowed La Paloma to stay open as long as it did.
Ultimately, though, the cost of doing business did them in, Cotto said.
"When your main product is coffee and it costs a dollar-fifty, you need a lot of dollar-fifties walking through that door," he said.
Bill Stapleton, a state Department of Public Health employee who has been a regular customer and friend for more than three years, sat with Cotto and shared a beer Monday afternoon.
Stapleton said he will miss Cotto and his sisters and being enlightened about the Latin American authors he discovered at the coffee shop.
"It's a third place, it's not work and it's not home," Stapleton said.
Cotto believes that even though La Paloma didn't last, it proved that bright and warm gathering places can make it in Hartford because neighborhoods and residents embrace and even protect them. Cotto pointed out that the mural on the outside of the building was never vandalized and that the furniture they left on the sidewalk when they closed at night was almost always there the next day.
"At the very end, someone took a chair," he said.
On Friday, La Paloma will close much like it opened, welcoming the Connecticut Coalition for Peace and Justice's Hope Out Loud for a monthly coffeehouse fund-raiser.
"It's unsung people doing their thing and La Paloma gets the credit," he said.
Then on Saturday, Cotto, who will be sworn in as a Hartford city councilman in January, said he wants to have a "hang out" with the shop's supporters.
"We want to celebrate what we were and what we can become," he said.
Then the books will be donated to the Hartford Public Library and the loaned art works adorning the walls will be returned to their owners.
La Paloma is expected to open again under new ownership in the spring. Cotto said the prospective buyer is a woman who visited the coffee shop and liked what she saw, but he doesn't know anything more.
In an e-mail Monday, Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez said the shop's closing was "unfortunate because it was a popular place and part of the fabric of the community. It is disappointing when an establishment closes, but they had a good run and hopefully new owners will carry on the spirit of La Paloma."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at