By Jamie Swinnerton
Ithaca’s one-stop-shop for coffee and tattoos has closed its doors for good. When The Shop on East Seneca street opened in 2009 it filled a niche that is hard to describe but somehow struck a chord in the community. Sadly, the niche will once again be looking for a coffee shop to fill it since owner Phoebe Aceto said the store hit some slow months that it couldn’t crawl out of.
“It just slowed down too much this winter,” Aceto said at the only table still left in The Shop. “We just didn’t make it through. You just got to call it sometimes.”
The ongoing construction on Buffalo Street slowed down a lot of the drive-up traffic the store once had, Aceto said.
“To not have that was pretty crucial in the November and December months when the students are not here a lot,” she said. “Usually we just kind of crawl through and stick it out.”
After eight and a half years of “crawling through,” she said she is ready to call it. The quitting point came when Aceto said she was struggling to make payroll. She gave her employees as much advance notice as she could, and told the public a week before officially closing.
“I know it seemed pretty sudden,” she said. “But it just got to the point when I was like ‘Yep, this is when I close. We get a week to say goodbye.’”
She has been checking in on her employees as they look for new jobs and putting out the word to other places where there might be openings.
For herself, Aceto will be opening her own tattoo parlor and art studio called Here’s To You Tattoo where she can focus solely on her own art. She will likely be taking the handmade wooden counters that her brother made for The Shop to the new studio. The process of selling off the equipment has only just begun.
Now that she no longer has to split her time between the business and her art she can focus singularly on the art. For now, she is her business, and it’s unlikely that her future will include another business like The Shop.
“I’m excited for this studio,” she said. “That’s my business. It’s just me. I’ve worked in hospitality, customer service, for a lot of years. I moved into Ithaca in I think 1999 and right away got a job at a café, and then I was at another one. I’ve kind of always been in coffee shops. I love them, and I’ve loved working in them.”
Model Citizen, the tattoo shop housed at the back of The Shop will still be downtown in a new studio. Aceto started as an apprentice in the shop 10 years ago under tattoo artist James Spiers, who opened Model Citizen in 2005.
“He’s taught me everything I know,” said Aceto. “This transitional time was a good time for me to just branch off.”
But that wasn’t the only relationship Aceto found in The Shop. Her business partner Jon Proton is no longer involved in the business, but no less important to Aceto and The Shop.
“Jon is a very dear friend that made The Shop possible,” she said. “To have a friend believe in you and your vision to the level Jon did is truly remarkable, and will never be forgotten by me.”
What will happen in the space The Shop once filled is uncertain. The lease for the building isn’t up until 2020 so Aceto is now looking for a new tenant. She said that once the hotel is built across the street and the parking lot within a short walking distance is fixed up it could be a great opportunity for the right vendor.
The Shop, Aceto said, popped up out of necessity and enthusiasm. Before the coffee shop was opened the space was filled with No Radio Records. When the record store said goodbye Aceto said they, she and Spiers, considered filling the space with the tattoo shop. But, the small space they had taken over in the back was more than what they needed already.
“The tattoo shop had just moved in when the record store was finally saying goodbye,” Aceto said. “It was just James and I back there so it was – at that time – too much space.”
She missed working in coffee and she wanted something that would help bring people into the tattoo shop to see the art they were creating. Putting both ideas together, she opened The Shop.
“So many people who would never walk into a tattoo shop would come here and maybe peek in and see the artwork and realize that this is not scary and we’re really nice and we just like to draw stuff,” Aceto said. “It’s been really amazing. I think it changed a lot of people’s perception on tattoo art in general.”
She said she’s going to miss the fancy espresso machine, of course. But she’s really going to miss the people. In her new studio, she won’t have any employees. She’ll mostly be by herself.
“I am a very social person so a good amount of social energy in a day just came from here,” she said. “I’d cruise right to the back to start trying to work on drawings or look at emails or something and I couldn’t make it to the back without stopping to say good morning to somebody. That was really nice to have that little community scene in here.”
To those lamenting the loss of The Shop Aceto said thank you. She’s still proud of the good thing that she and everyone who made The Shop a reality created.