Gayborhood coffee shop to close permanently

Square One Coffee (photo: Instagram)

Square One Coffee, the cafe on 13th street in the heart of the Gayborhood, has decided to close its doors for good. The shop first opened in 2014 next door to the John C. Anderson Apartments (JCAA).

Husband and wife Josh and Jessica Steffy, who originally opened Square One in Lancaster, made the difficult decision to close the location in Philadelphia after six years of keeping it running from a distance. 

“Due to that distance and the high cost of doing business in Philadelphia in general, every one of those six years has been a difficult uphill battle,” the Steffys said in a written statement. “As we close this chapter, our regrets are twofold: not being able to continue working with that same incredible team of people and not being a part of that vibrant community in Philly.”

Situated right next to JCAA and less than a block from the William Way LGBT Community Center, Square One became a hub for many of the building’s residents, local artists, and other members of the LGBTQ community.  

“It seemed like it was a very interesting, welcoming, multigenerational gathering spot in the neighborhood,” said Elizabeth Coffey Williams, a trans activist, former actress and master quilter who lives in the JCAA. “I’m sorry to see it go.” 

John James, who also lives in the JCAA, spent time in the coffee shop roughly every other day to work on his aging-related website, through which he reported on scientific research on increasing the healthy human lifespan. When the pandemic hit, he shifted gears and is now working on COVID-19 research, which he plans to publish online. James was an important figure in the LGBTQ rights movement; he took part in the gay rights protests in front of Independence Mall from 1965 to 1969, which were some of country’s first major protests calling for equal rights for the gay community. He appreciated the convenience of Square One. 

“Being right there, if there were people in [JCAA] that have trouble getting around, as long as they can move from one door to another –– the first floor of our building is totally accessible of course –– they could just go next door.”

Ed Miller, senior programs coordinator at the William Way LGBT Community Center, reflected on the initial opening of Square One and how much of a positive addition it was for the JCAA residents.

“When it first opened, it was really fun,” Miller said. “The seniors engaged with the owners and wanted to build a partnership with them. They were very willing to chat with them and take their ideas and input.”

JCAA resident Steve Getzow, former marine and accountant and current volunteer National Park Service Ranger, said that when he stopped in to introduce himself to the Steffys shortly after the 13th Street shop opened, they offered to give JCAA residents a discount. 

“[Square One] was a well-run coffee shop and it was convenient to the building so it was really nice to have them,” Getzow said. “It wasn’t even about the 10% you saved, it was just a good relationship. They were from a small town that was different from Philadelphia and they brought that with them, which I thought was a really good business relationship.”

In addition to serving coffee and snacks and providing space for regulars to gather and do work, Square One hosted events, more notably a 2017 town hall discussion with Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Bob Casey. The senators discussed local and large-scale issues that impacted LGBTQ communities shortly after Trump took office. Square One also hosted latte art competitions with other local coffee shops, Getzow said. 

The coronavirus has not been kind to many small businesses, even if they plan to reopen when the world reverts back to normalcy. Many business owners applied for and received funding from the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a program of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that provides financial assistance to businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic. However, the application process for PPP proved to be confusing, and considering the program was first-come, first-served, getting a grant proved difficult. 

The initial PPP program, which was worth $349 billion, was drained within the first two weeks of its availability. CBS News reported that 90% of minority and women-owned businesses faced serious roadblocks to getting PPP loans. CBS also reported that big-name banks that offered such loans — including Bank of America and Wells Fargo — gave preference to larger applications for the sake of boosting loan-origination fees as well as their own monetary gain.    

“While we’re heartbroken, the decision to close is one we hope will result in greater health for the rest of our small company and for us personally,” the Steffys said in their statement. They also thanked their customers for their patronage, and encouraged them to support other local independent businesses.  

“Everyone should be aware: our friends in the coffee industry are all hurting right now and could use your business WAY more than the big chains. Please support the little companies who make Philly unique and beautiful.”