UNION CITY -- After nearly a decade as one of the Tri-City area's social and cultural hubs, Paddy's Coffee House will close next month -- but the sad news comes with a silver lining.
It's goodbye but not farewell, as Paddy Iyer, the cafe's owner, said he hopes to reopen at a new Union City location in spring of next year.
Iyer said business has been slower after the economic collapse of 2008 and, with his lease expiring in a few weeks, it was the perfect time to take a break and rethink how he wants to do business.
He praised his landlords for helping him during tough times as he operated in a first-floor storefront at 3900 Smith St., a quaint building in the shadow of palm trees in the Old Alvarado district on Union City's west side.
"It's more about tightening the belt than anything," Iyer said of the decision to close and relocate. "After talking to customers, we realize people need more than what we're offering."
The coffeehouse's years of operation -- 2003 to 2012 -- have encompassed a tumultuous economic period. Paddy's opened as the Bay Area was reeling from the dot-com bust and the country still was dealing with the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"You had people coming in and sitting, hours on end, just looking for a job," he said.
Despite the uncertain times, the coffeehouse quickly earned a reputation as an authentic Bohemian enclave, becoming the hot spot for Tri-City-area artists, musicians
Students held art exhibits at Paddy's and aspiring musicians and spoken-word artists performed at open mike nights. Local nonprofit groups frequently enlisted the help of the coffeehouse in public outreach campaigns on issues ranging from poverty to teen pregnancy. Each election season, it hosted local candidate forums. And when Union City residents considered joining the Occupy movement, their public meeting took place at Paddy's.
"We didn't plan to be the (city's) only source for culture; we just became the torchbearer," Iyer said. "We realized that this community needed a home away from home, a place to call their own."
Yesh Bajwa, 20, of Union City, said Paddy's is not only the city's most popular cafe but also the most inclusive. "Paddy's is open to everyone, any kind of ethnicity or sexual preference," he said while taking a break from studying for a San Jose City College class. "I've met so many different kinds of friends here."
Iyer, a Fremont resident, said he has not yet decided where he will relocate his business or when its doors will reopen. But when he's ready, he foresees some big changes, such as creating more of a European-style cafe with outdoor seating, where he can bake on-site and offer nighttime pastries while keeping his doors open beyond the standard dinner hour.
"We're moving from the coffeehouse model to a cafe model," he said.
First, Iyer wants to give a proper goodbye to Paddy's first home. A final celebration has been scheduled for Dec. 15, when partygoers will be asked to donate food or clothes to local nonprofits for the holidays.
"To us, it's more important for people to give than to just have a good old time," he said, smiling. "But a good time will be had."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.