COLUMBIA — The Underground Cafe in downtown Columbia closed Wednesday night.
Jason Schrick, one employee, received the news of a need to close one week ago in a text message sent by the son of the cafe's owner, Laurie McAllister.
The remainder of the cafe’s lease for 111 S. Ninth St. might be to rent out the space for private events, Schrick said.
The reason why the Underground went under is unclear. It appears that financial issues might have been a contributing factor. Two benefits were arranged for June 26 and 29 to raise money for the cafe, which closed its doors the day after the second benefit.
Schrick, who was a sound technician at the Underground for about seven months, organized the benefits, which had more than 15 acts.
"(The artists) were excited to try to help out because the Underground had always treated them like gold whenever they had performed there," Schrick said.
McAllister and her two children, who have been helping run the business since September, did not returned calls about the nature of the close, the amount of money made by these benefits or how that money is going to be used.
Word about the closing of the business appears not yet to have leaked to the majority of the community. Thursday, four separate would-be patrons approached the door to the cafe within 15 minutes of one another, before asking if the place was closed.
Previously called The Cherry Street Artisan, the coffee shop was frequented by people looking for a place to study and hold small meetings.
Performance opportunities in the evenings encouraged start-up musicians and poets to get a feel for the stage on open mic nights, though some disliked becoming background noise to a distracted coffee-shop audience. Many patrons frequented the Artisan for the environment, coffee and food, rather than the acts themselves.
The business went through a metamorphosis in September when McAllister's son, Ryan, and daughter, Katelyn, began helping her run the business.
The result was The Underground Cafe, which included the expansion of both the cafe’s food menu and the business's operation as a musical venue.
According to Schrick, he was hired during the inception of The Underground, when a night staff was being sought. Hoping to change its previous image as a coffee shop and study area, The Underground Cafe sought to bolster its reputation as a venue to attract a night crowd.
The cafe increased the frequency of musical events and began charging cover at the door. This attracted bigger acts and music lovers, but it discouraged some other patrons.
The Underground also began carrying Intelligentsia, a pricier brand of espresso. However, former employee Katy Bauschke, said this decision was short-lived — the cafe stopped carrying Intelligentsia after two or three months.
Much of the cafe’s setup remained the same, including, but not limited to, the sizable metal tiger statue standing next to the cash register and counter space.
All that remained outside of the previous downtown landmark on Thursday was a few empty beer cans strewn about the gated patio and a plethora of cigarette butts leading down the concrete steps to a locked cafe entrance.