The Beehive Coffeehouse was always more than just a spot to grab a quick cup of coffee.
For nearly three decades, the popular coffee shop also served as gathering place, a mini art gallery and a haven for eccentrics.
On Thursday, loyal customers were saddened to learn the Carson Street shop would close by year’s end. They were nostalgic about the Beehive’s place in their lives.
Owners Steve Zumoff and Scott Kramer have decided to shut the doors and concentrate on their Double Wide Grill locations on the South Side, Irwin and Mars along with the Tiki Lounge on the South Side.
When the announcement hit Facebook on Sept. 5, reactions to the closing went viral to more than 75,000 people.
“We knew people would react, but not this many,” said Zumoff, as he stood inside the establishment Thursday just looking around. “It is time to move on. The smoking laws have changed our business as well as the clientele has changed over the years. When we moved in there were a lot of boarded up buildings. South Side is so different now.”
“It will be sad. I had hoped the Beehive would be here for my kids to pour some cups of coffee, but it is a business decision,” Zumoff said. “You have to change with the times.”
It’s the end of an era, said Wayne Toth, of Brookline who was enjoying a cup of black coffee like he’s has since 1994.
“It’s like losing an old friend,” said Toth. “This place attracted a lot of like minds who hung out here – artists and musicians. I don’t know of too many spots like this one. This is truly a unique place.”
It was one of only two coffee shops in Pittsburgh behind La Prima when it opened. Now there are 150 Kramer estimates. Zumoff and Kramer said they owe a lot to the landlord who took a chance on two 20-somethings.
Kramer, a Pittsburgh native, met Zumoff, of Harrisburg in college. He helped with the electrical wiring and other necessary details for them to open. Other locations in areas such as Shadyside and Oakland turned them down. They opened the Beehive with $27,000.
They believe it remained popular because they have pretty much kept it the same. It has the original floor as the pharmacy that preceded it. Some of the artwork has changed with new artists showcasing their collections. But the blue sky filled with white clouds remains on the ceiling as well as the mural of faces in the back of the shop.
A round, red table in the back of the shop used to sit prominently out front. People gathered there for java and conversations – before the age of laptops and smartphones.
“There were so many great conversations at the table, “Kramer said. “And when a group of men would sit there and a young pretty lady would walk in, they would invite her to sit and talk with them. A lot of times, she would end up working here.”
The Beehive also rented computer time before laptops and were one of the first to offer free WiFi. They had a pay phone and a fan to clear out all the cigarette smoke.
The shop is open seven days a week and early on it was open 24 hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They plan to have a goodbye party before the end of the year.
The news saddened Rachel Silver of Squirrel Hill, who started working at the Beehive on her 18th birthday in 1998. She no longer works there, but often stops by to sip tea and work on her laptop.
She remembered filling the milk machine with heavy bags that she had to lift over her head to get them into place. Employees also had to boil water in a tea kettle in the early days because they didn’t have a machine that dispensed hot water.
“This is a community place,” Silver said. “I have so many wonderful memories from spending time here. This was never a Starbucks or chain coffee shop. I think the culture was almost more important than the coffee.”
The moment that barista Laura Clift spotted the Beehive she knew it was a place she wanted to work. As a graphic designer and artist, the place spoke to her. One of her pieces hangs on the wall.
“I love, love, love this place,” Clift said. “It is an awesome community. It’s a really good atmosphere where people can express themselves.”
“When Kurt Cobain died, customers held a vigil outside the Beehive,” Zumoff said. “That was in the 1990s.”
They chose the name based on the fact it would be a cool place to hang out.
They hope to move the next door arcade — Super Happy Fun Time Bar and Arcade — to another location.
The building is in the process of being sold.
They offered coffee tokens to the first artists who helped decorate the original store because they didn’t have cash.
“We have been fortunate to have really good workers over the years that have cared about the coffee shop,” Zumoff said. “Those individuals as well as loyal customers have allowed us to stay around so long. We really appreciate them and know this will be hard on them. It’s hard on us too.”
“The coffee business is rough,” Kramer said. “It’s been a great run. So many kids grew up here. I love reading the stories on Facebook where customers say they met their husband or wife here or where everyone felt welcome here, no matter how odd they were. We never judged anyone. I am going to miss all of the people.”
Kramer said the police would often drop off photos of runaways who would sometimes end up at the Beehive because it was a safe haven for them.
JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or [email protected] or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.