Café au Play is closing. Sunday, December 6th is the last day the café will be open.
Why is Café au Play Closing? The closing is not the result of financial difficulties. Café au Play is debt free, has adequate operational funds, and a small surplus. The cause of the closing is our assessment that our current operational structure is not viable. While it was our goal to explore alternative models in the new year, unexpected staff shortages forced the issue. The goal from the beginning was for Café operations to be self-sustaining. Last year we came close to that target but the trend lines since that time indicate that this goal is unlikely to be reached. Simply put, Café operations and the Barista Training Program have only continued because of subsidies generated from the Holiday Tree Sale.
Other factors also contributed to our decision to close – the departure last year of our long term café manager, continued reliance on a small group of dedicated volunteers, the challenge of attracting nonprofit board members, and especially the difficulty of hiring experienced café management and staff in a competitive job market where our limited resources put us at a disadvantage. Increasingly, the ability to focus on our nonprofit mission and vision was being submerged beneath the weight of tending to the everyday details of running the café. We could not continue to call upon our Executive Director to prop up what had become an unsustainable model. Everyone was getting burned out. It was time to reassess.
We have also come to the realization that many of the services offered by Café au Play, while valuable and innovative when first envisioned in 2004, are now available in other venues. A quick check of PDX Kids Calendar shows the many opportunities that young families now have to make connections, share social time, and enjoy child-focused activities. It also shows that the original nonprofit mission of creating a space that was neither membership-based nor pay-to-play is probably not workable in today’s environment. Perhaps this explains why the first generation of leaders who founded and built Café au Play, and whose children are now teens, have not been replaced by a new generation of young parents willing to carry the Café au Play vision forward.
Celebrate those who made it happen – Those who volunteer their time and resources to nonprofit organizations and community projects are special people. There is no way to truly thank them. There are so many instances of people who stepped up when Café au Play was most in need. Café au Play has also been blessed with a long list of community partners – public and private. While not all of our supporters are displayed, we encourage you to check out the Recognition Trees on the north wall of Café au Play for the names of those who have contributed. We have tried to honor their trust. We celebrate the staff and Barista trainees who were the hands, heart, and public face of Café au Play. We celebrate the neighbors and families who bought coffee and goods at our cafe and trees at our Holiday Tree Sale. We celebrate the artists, performers and educators who created its lively social atmosphere. Finally, we celebrate the founders who launched this innovative idea 12 years ago, the board members who sustained it, and especially Kristin Heying, Café au Play founder and Executive Director, whose vision, resourcefulness, and perseverance are the rock on which Café au Play was built.
Celebrate our accomplishments – Café au Play has been a pioneer in creating an open family-friendly space, and offering family-oriented support, educational, health, and creative arts programs that are available to all. Through the extraordinary dedication of the Executive Director, board members, volunteers and public and private funders, we turned a derelict property with a disreputable past into an award winning community showcase, recognized for its whimsical mural and for its integrated rainwater retention features that also served as a playspace for children. We have fulfilled the charge of those who participated in the community visioning process in 2006 to create a community meeting space, compatible with the neighborhood in scale and operation, featuring attractive and sustainable green scape and hard scape features.
Café au Play is so many things – children will remember the sandbox and playhouse, hiding in the cozy space under the big tree, exploring the basalt rocks, the art workshops, music and puppet shows. For parents there was the new fathers group, parenting workshops, farmers market, the rental space for birthday parties, and so much more. The Café served as a gallery for artwork and a space where performers could develop their craft. We developed a Barista Training Program that created a stepping-stone to employment for many students. All these wonderful activities fulfilled the mission of Café au Play to “meet the needs of diverse families for a comfortable, accessible space that encourages social interaction, genuine and sustainable support, creative stimulation, and community inclusion.”
Looking forward – There is a time for everything. The new year creates an opportunity for the Board and Executive Director to thoughtfully reassess Café au Play’s mission and purpose. We will draw into this conversation individuals and partners who have been instrumental in our development. The Tabor Commons site is owned by Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition (SEUL). As their tenants, we have already involved a representative of their organization in these discussions. The original development of the Tabor Commons site was created during a community visioning process in 2006. Café au Play was a good fit with that original vision. We intend to work with SEUL and the Tabor Commons project to develop a new visioning process. Given the development activity that is rapidly moving up Division Street, it is important that the community also be engaged in the conversation about the future use of this community-owned property. In partnership with SEUL and Tabor Commons, we have put our heart and soul into making this a beautiful functioning space. We want its future use to continue the Café au Play legacy of community service and engagement.
Café au Play Board and Executive Director