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January 23, 2024

Black & Brew, an East Passyunk Avenue mainstay, will lose its lease at the end of February

The cafe's landlord, Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp., cites unpaid financial obligations as the reason, which the business owners dispute

Business Cafes
Black and Brew Passyunk StreetView/Google Maps

Black & Brew will need move out of its location at 1523 E. Passyunk Ave. at the end of February, when its lease expires. After 17 years, the owners say their lease is not being renewed by their landlord Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp.

Black & Brew, the BYOB cafe that's been a fixture on East Passyunk Avenue for 17 years, needs to find a new home in order to keep its business running. There's a good chance its new storefront won't be along the busy South Philly corridor that has helped make it a go-to spot for coffee, homemade treats and local artwork.

Owner Colleen DeCesare said her cafe is being driven out by the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp., or PARC, the non-profit real-estate development and management company that owns seven properties along Passyunk Avenue between Federal and McKean streets. PARC uses the income it makes as a landlord to maintain the public spaces along East Passyunk and provide other services to the community.

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"We received an email two days after Christmas that PARC would not be renewing our lease," DeCesare said last week. "Up until that point, we had no indication that that would happen."

But Alex Balloon, PARC's executive director, recently explained that the cafe's lease is not being extended because of "unresolved financial obligations."

Black & Brew occupies the ground floor of a three-story building at 1523 E. Passyunk Ave., at the intersection with Cross Street, that's recognizable for a mosaic by Isaiah Zagar, the artist behind South Street's iconic Magic Gardens. DeCesare said Black & Brew needs to move out by the end of February, leaving little time for her to find a new location and plan a significant change for the business and its staff.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black & Brew was among the Philadelphia restaurants that closed due to the city's health restrictions. The situation created complicated arrangements around leases and rental payments. Black & Brew was closed for seven months before it reopened in October 2020.

At the time, DeCesare spoke to a former PARC executive director about temporarily reducing the cafe's rent and then making up the difference at a later time, but PARC's board was not supportive of that plan and, she said, the arrangement fell apart. This caused the business to fall behind on some payments. All of the back rent owed to PARC has since been repaid, she claimed.

"That's the only stain we've ever had in our longstanding tenure here," Decasare said. "It was resolved. It's three years later. We never heard another thing about it. Otherwise, the rent has always been paid."

Balloon declined to share specifics about what it says Black & Brew owes PARC, and he said the company went out of its way to to support Black & Brew and its other business tenants during the pandemic.

"PARC provided significant support to Black & Brew, including a below market rent freeze, thousands of dollars of rent and utility payment relief, and flexible payment plans to accommodate the challenges they faced during this period," Balloon said. "It's important to note that we use the rent to provide vital services, such as street cleaning and community improvements to our Passyunk Avenue community."

Over the years, Black & Brew has kept a loyal customer base that appreciates the cozy atmosphere, good deals and healthy vegan and vegetarian options for breakfast and lunch. DeCesare opened the business in 2007 with her wife, Jennifer Kaufman, and helped create a welcoming, LGBTQ-friendly environment in East Passyunk.

After receiving two months' notice to vacate, DeCesare reached out to PARC for an explanation and a discussion about other options, but she never heard back, she said. In the past, DeCesare said she had offered to buy the property, but PARC was not interested in selling.

"We had to hire a lawyer to communicate with them, and that really didn't get us anywhere," DeCesare said. "They sent the same message to the lawyer that the board is firm on their decision. We kept it quiet until now, hoping that maybe they would reconsider or give us more time."

With about five weeks remaining on their lease, Black & Brew took to Instagram to share the news. The business asked for support and understanding as it navigates its next steps.

"We're hoping maybe the power of the people could put a little pressure on (PARC) and that's where we are," DeCesare said. "Regardless, we know that we're going to move on and continue Black & Brew in a closeby location. We're not going to end our business because PARC is not renewing our lease. We'll continue on. It'll be a huge challenge because of the timeframe they're giving us, but we're 100% committed to doing that."

DeCesare said she's identified a possible storefront nearby, but it's not on East Passyunk Avenue. Black & Brew hasn't found any viable options on the street.

"We are looking at something that's very close — not East Passyunk, but only blocks away," DeCesare said. "We could keep the same staff and most of our customer base."

The new space would require significant renovations. That could mean that Black & Brew will need to close temporarily before reopening at a new location.

"It's so sudden that it's really going to be hard for us," DeCesare said.

Balloon said PARC is evaluating its options for the cafe's space "to ensure that its future use contributes positively to the vibrancy and diversity of the Passyunk Avenue corridor." He declined to say what kind of business might take over the storefront.

Black & Brew's customers can follow the cafe' social media for updates on the pending move. Until then, the business plans to finish out its lease on East Passyunk Avenue.

"As we embark on this new chapter, we ask for your continued support and understanding," the cafe said on Instagram. "We are determined to overcome this obstacle and emerge even stronger than before."