Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Istria on 57th Likely To Close Soon

posted by chicago pop



Multiple sources have informed us of somewhat shocking news: Istria on 57th may close very soon, perhaps as early as December 20th.

Many people have said that this one cafe made life much more tolerable in retail/social gathering spot/bohemian culture--deprived Hyde park.

If this keeps up, it's going to be harder for realtors (or realtor, singular, meaning MetroPro) to make the pitch that, when it comes to Hyde Park, it's either "the golden rectangle" or the wilderness. With the rare exception of the new Z&H location, what little action there is in the area is either well to the north -- Istria's second, Cornell location at the Hyde Park Art Center is doing very well -- or south, where Robust Coffee Lounge is taking on Woodlawn. With Florian already gone, an empty space under the Metra tracks at 57th and Lake Park Avenue will make two conspicuous holes in one prominent block in the heart of Hyde Park.


[Source: Eric Allix Rogers' Flickr photostream -- http://www.flickr.com/photos/reallyboring/5235226193/]

We'd love to know what went wrong. Streams of people pour out of the Metra station at regular intervals all day long, walking right past Istria's front doors. Neighborhood folks go out of their way to grab a seat. Was it poor management? Bad luck? Or simply not enough traffic?

Perhaps locals may find consolation in the fact that Morsbach's Medici Bakery, ever the trend-setter, is now offering cupcakes.

********

Postscript from Istria received in response to this post:

With respect to closing our original Istria Cafe on 57th Street, several factors let to this difficult decision. Chief among them include a multitude of inflationary pressures and operational constraints. In order to be a going concern, we need to make adjustments to our menu offerings and business model - changes that we plan to roll out over the next several weeks at our other location on 5030 South Cornell in the Hyde Park Art Center. Unfortunately, the economic model and real estate associated with our original 57th Street location are not compatible at this time. We are saddened that we need to close the doors of our original store, but remain optimistic that the improvements that we have planned will be well received by our customers. We have served many wonderful loyal patrons at 57th Street over the past five and half years and hope to continue to serve them going forward.
Best,
Marc Pribaz
Istria Cafe

24 comments:

Eric Allix Rogers said...

Metra seems to have a lot of trouble with its embankment real estate. I wonder what the rent is, and if that factored in?

Leli said...

because seriously, I'd love to rent the spot and open an all-night jamaican patty kind of place :)

chicago pop said...

Sources have confirmed that it's a rent issue. The lease on the 57th St. space with Metra is expiring, and Metra wants to boost what had been very friendly rates to market rate for the space. Apparently, Istria-57th doesn't sell enough coffee and baked goods to make up the difference. It's not clear anyone else could, either, at least not with the same product mix.

It's also not clear that Metra is being reasonable in asking for market rate at its station spaces, since the spaces themselves tend to be awkward, a bit remote, and heavily dependent on Metra traffic.

Rather than viewing tenants of the station spaces as revenue streams, which seems to be Metra's new model, Metra may realize that below-market rates are to their advantage: having successful merchants near their doors help to make their station areas less desolate and uninviting. Metra is getting greedy and it's going to kill the pedestrian-friendliness of that station.

Matt said...

On a more positive note, there is a new fro-yo store (pink berry, yogen fruz, or yoberri???) coming in next door to Hyde Park Gyros on 53rd and Kenwood. Construction crews just put a new front door and windows on the tiny retail space. I imagine it will open in the spring. Also, the old Jackson Hewitt office next to Freehling Pot and Pan has a building permit pulled for constructing a "cafe." Could Istra be moving to 53rd or are we getting a new cafe? Anyone know? Too bad Istra is leaving the 57th st space. Metra should really spruce up these retail spaces, and rent them out cheep, especially the one at 53rd and lake park. A convenience store or fast food concept would easily work. Maybe even a bakery or small restaurant.

Marc said...

With respect to closing our original Istria Cafe on 57th Street, several factors let to this difficult decision. Chief among them include a multitude of inflationary pressures and operational constraints. In order to be a going concern, we need to make adjustments to our menu offerings and business model - changes that we plan to roll out over the next several weeks at our other location on 5030 South Cornell in the Hyde Park Art Center. Unfortunately, the economic model and real estate associated with our original 57th Street location are not compatible at this time. We are saddened that we need to close the doors of our original store, but remain optimistic that the improvements that we have planned will be well received by our customers. We have served many wonderful loyal patrons at 57th Street over the past five and half years and hope to continue to serve them going forward.
Best,
Marc Pribaz
Istria Cafe

David Farley said...

Are any of the other spaces under the HP Metra underpasses currently rented out? Is there some perverse economic model that makes it desirable for Metra to keep the prices so high nobody wants to rent them?

Richard Gill said...

I don't know of any other retailers under the tracks at present, at 57th, 53rd or 51st. Within recent memory there have been a produce store, two popcorn shops, Big Jim's tobacco store, and a florist.

Metra's rental policies aside, the spaces have some physical problems such as low ceiling, bridge columns and cramped space. Further, they are under the viaducts, and hidden from view, which is very disadvantageous for a retailer dependent of foot traffic. A "destination" establishment, say a small cavelike bar/cafe, might be able to take advantage of the more-or-less subterranean location.

The biggest problem, I believe, is insufficient walkby pedestrian traffic. When the Illinois Central Railroad electrified its commuter service in 1926, ridership exploded. There were trains every five to ten minutes, and minimal competing auto and bus traffic. The IC service was more like the "L" than a railroad. Retailers benefitted from huge volumes of passers-by at the stations and surely included newsstands, ice cream shops and the like. It was pretty much that way into the mid 1950s.

If the RTA and its various elements (CTA, Metra, Pace) ever get their act together and implement universal transfers, then perhaps the Metra Electric will function like a main stem and see a big boost in traffic. But that's another story.

Chason said...

Is the sketchy looking ice cream/popcorn shop still open under the 53rd street viaduct?

mchinand said...

I'm pretty sure the ice cream/popcorn shop at *51 St* is still open.

chicago pop said...

I'm pretty sure the popcorn shop at 51st Street is a money laundering operation. I can think of no other explanation for its existence. They are still in business, and Istria is closing? It makes no sense, unless someone at Metra wants it to be there, or they have other sources of income besides popcorn.

Speaking of dubious popcorn shops, the popcorn place on 55th is never open during its posted hours, or if it is, they are liberally interpreted. I have the same suspicion regarding that place. They are not out to make money.

Otto said...

Within recent memory there have been a produce store, two popcorn shops, Big Jim's tobacco store, and a florist.

There was also a comics/video rental/etc. operation at 51st, the name of which I can never remember. They did have "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" in stock, though.

Richard Gill said...

Maybe Metra management doesn't know the popcorn shop is there. I'm not kidding. As we all know, Metra has, of late, suffered from administrative, uh, inattention to detail.

FYI, "Bring Me the Head..." is currently playing on Comcast on-demand.

Chason said...

51st, yes, thank you for the correction.

Like Richard, I too have had my suspicious about the popcorn place on 55th. I live very close to it and never see people patronizing it. Maybe they will serve as inspiration for an episode of The Chicago Code (is Hyde Park in a position where any press is good press?).

David Farley said...

I have purchased popcorn from the place on 55th St. It is very good, but very expensive. They are very nice people - it seems legit, despite the increasingly random hours. I get the impression it's sort of the owner's hobby, and his family helps him out with it sometimes. The rents are pretty low in that stretch of block. If you think it's a money laundering operation, why not just go in and ask the owner next time it's open?

SoonKyu said...

That is too bad, because I love that place! They make the best latte around in my opinion.

Andrew Cone said...

I'm sad about Istria closing. It provided much-needed community space. Hyde Park south of 55th street will be a worse place to live without it.

I was also disappointed when Third World Cafe started closing at 3pm. The owner told me the late night crew bought very little, so it wasn't profitable to stay open that late. Personally, I only ever went to Third World in the late afternoon, so now I never go there at all.

I think the University and the aldermen should start seeing coffee shops, especially ones that are open late, as amenities with huge positive externalities that help their bottom line. If the city funds stoic, overstaffed libraries with paltry book selections, it should fund places people actually want to read, work, and hang out.

Let's tell the aldermen and the University: we want decent places to hang out, especially at night, and you should pay for them.

Andrew Cone said...

Also, I heard through the grapevine that Istria at 57th was actually paying $0 rent. Can someone confirm this?

chicago pop said...

Andrew Cone, I agree completely!

Andrew Cone for alderman!

chicago pop said...

Istria's rent: I'm not sure it was $0, but I think it was exceptionally low (something like what you would like to see with neighborhood cafes, in which Metra viewed Istria as an enormous positive externality and was willing to foot the bill for it). Apparently, for reasons that have not been disclosed, Metra no longer wants to continue with this arrangement.

Yael said...

Have heard that the rent may not be the issue here. Source also says that a buyer may be in the pipeline and that a coffee shop may remain in that spot. Here's hoping!

chicago pop said...

Yael: that would be nice (if another coffee shop came in there, not a popcorn shop!)

Richard Gill said...

"...for reasons that have not been disclosed, Metra no longer wants to continue with this arrangement."

I would imagine that, if Metra granted a zero or minimal-rent lease, it was to help the business get established. After the first lease expires the business would be expected to stand on its own or depart.

SR said...

I can think of no other explanation for its existence.

I always figured Kenwood High School on the opposite corner was providing most of its customers. It's the only place with snacks along that stretch, anyway.

Lynn said...

The former manager of the Istria 57th street location has found an investor, and now owns Cafe 57 in the same location. We were there today, and it was her first day! Please go support her endeavor, especially if you were sad about Istria closing.