Coffee Gallery closes at Open Book in Minneapolis


There’s an empty space in the lobby of the Open Book literary center. Coffee Gallery has closed. Open Book, a non-profit operated jointly by three anchor tenants; The Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Editions, and Minnesota Center for Book Arts, purchased and renovated the building at 1011 Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis, launching in 2000. Coffee Gallery was there at the beginning.

The neighborhood was marginal back then. “We were the shock-troops of urban renewal,” says Coffee Gallery owner John Sherrell, remembering how his staff interfaced with the street world in the early days. Sherrell saw the Coffee Gallery as “the welcome wagon – the heart of the building.” Together he, and what he terms his die-hard crew, purveyed caffeine, cookies, soup and sandwiches from a pocket-sized kitchen under the steps.

A dozen years later, Open Book finds itself in the midst of a budding cultural corridor. Open Book Building Manager Joe Skifter says there were, “a multitude of reasons the board made the decision to seek a different vendor.” He cites the growing desirability of the neighborhood, and vacancies in other parts of the building as factors. Open Book exercised their option to terminate the lease in 2011. The Coffee Gallery had been operating month to month since that time.

Sherrell says he “felt like we had a Warner Brothers anvil suspended over our cartoon heads.” He chose to close at a time of year when the building would be impacted the least, six months out so that folks had time to look for jobs and the building to woo a new cafe. According to Skifter, Open Book is courting another mom and pop coffee shop for the space. Final agreements are yet to be made.

On Friday, June 22 Coffee Gallery held a Bowing-out Celebration, marking the end of 21 years of business, a dozen at Open Book, and a decade before that at their first location near Franklin and Lyndale. Platters of brownies kept coming from the tiny kitchen. A circle of guitars sat beneath the big storefront windows. A man in a torn down jacket loaded sandwiches into his pocket and went for the door. The guitar players sang a Grateful Dead tune, “Woh – oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

On a recent morning, the sandwich-board sign inviting you in for a “cup o’ joe” is absent from the sidewalk. Inside, a row of empty stools blocks the entrance. A tall man shifts the book bag on his shoulder, reading the notice from building management taped to one of the chairs. His eyes move from the glass cases – devoid of crumpets – to the open door through which the kitchen is being dismantled. Then back to the notice from Open Book, which closes with a T.S. Eliot quote, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Below that, helpfully, they’ve included directions to the vending machine in the basement.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.