, which opened on Seventh Avenue in 1973, will close its doors on Saturday, January 14. They will be closed for about a month until they find a new location in the neighborhood.
“Our lease is up and the store is big. We are behind on rent and our landlord even lowered it for us, but we cannot catch up,” said Karen Hue, co-owner of the coffee and tea specialty shop. “There has been a dry spell, we haven’t been pulling in a lot of business.”
According to Victoria Cook, the other co-owner of the shop between Union Street and Berkeley Place, business has been bad since 2008. She said that six months before the recession hit the rest of the country, Leaf N Bean started to feel the effects of the economic downturn.
“Things started getting difficult, business seriously slowed down,” Cook explained. “We maintained through the toughest years, but it’s time to get out, regroup and analyze how we can make more money in a smaller space.”
She also said that Seventh Avenue as a business district has been declining, and that hasn’t helped their store either. Cook explained that there were five empty stores surrounding their business for seven years.
But, on Friday, the shop was busy with regulars filing in, asking where they are moving, buying their usual pound of coffee or tea and looking at the sales (merchandise is going for 50 percent off and tea, candy and food is 25 percent off).
“It’s sad news. The small mom-and-pop shops like this one are what make Park Slope what it is,” said a woman who has lived in the neighborhood for a quarter century, Ellen Freudenheim, the editor of Brooklyn About.com. “My husband and I have been coming here since forever.”
Another woman, who was speaking to Hue at the counter, said she will miss leaf N Bean.
“As long as they are going to open another store I am fine,” said Lisa Jaeger, who is Hue’s chiropractor’s wife, while in the store on Friday. “This was the first place you could buy loose tea and coffee in bulk.”
The customers seem to be dedicated to the shop and its owners. Everyone who came in on Friday seemed to know Hue and Cook very well.
Hue said there is a reason for the amicability between the businesswomen and their patrons.
“We aim to please whatever our customers want, we spoil them,” said Hue, who has been working there since 1990.
She explained that 25 of their regulars have their own blends. She pointed to a small, green metal file box, filled with different blends and the patrons’ name and phone number.
The personalized mixtures have names like “Louise’s Blend,” “Weiner’s Blend” and “Jill’s Blend.”
Years ago, Leaf N Bean made a special blend for a restaurant on Fifth Avenue called Mike and Tony’s and the eponymous blend is still selling.
She also said that they know how to grind coffee like no other coffeehouse.
She explained that they have three grinders, one is just for flavored coffee and the other two have settings ranging from Turkish, which produces the finest grind, like the texture of “baby powder,” to Toddy, which is the coarsest setting.
Hue said that she has patrons who ask for very precise grinds. One regular always gets their java ground on the one-thirds setting and another only likes his ground on the two-eighths setting.
The intimacy Leaf N Bean has with their patrons seems unparalleled. Hue said she is so close with her customers that she knows more about a customer’s spouse than they might.
“I have a lot of housewives that come and say, ‘I don’t know what my husband likes, but you do,’” Hue said with a smile, then she said with a laugh: “I am the other woman.”
Despite their economic trouble, the duo is determined to bring the store to a new location. They have respect for the business they bought from the original owner, Allan Mehlberg, in 2003.
“Allan had foresight because there was nothing here like a Starbucks,” Cook said. “He pioneered gourmet coffee for your home in Brooklyn.”
They said they do not have a place in mind, but they are thinking their new shop will be on Fifth Avenue.
Although the economy is still hurting, they will prevail, Hue and Cook said.
“We will open a new store in one month, while the momentum is hot. We don’t want to lose our customers,” said Hue, who was talking with nostalgic patrons who all had a say-it-ain’t-so-sentiment written across their faces. “A promise is a promise.”