Clarification: This article has been updated with information about Espresso Roma Corp.'s interest in the Boulder shop.

For some Boulder residents, Espresso Roma was a haven, a place where people from all walks of life could come and strike up a conversation, play a game of chess, indulge in some artistic endeavors or buy a cup of coffee for a resident in need.

Employees and customers of the coffee shop at 1101 13th St. on University Hill say Espresso Roma served as a representation of a creative, "Bohemian" spirit that once was prevalent in Boulder -- but has faded in recent years.

Espresso Roma's era appears to have ended; the coffee shop that was a fixture on the Hill for more than 25 years unexpectedly shuttered Tuesday evening.

One of the owners of the cafe said Wednesday that prolonged financial difficulties were compounded this week by a sales tax bill from the city of Boulder.

"We cannot afford to stay open," said Susan Ochoa, whose family members have owned Espresso Roma since 1988.

Ochoa declined to disclose the amount of the notice. Sales tax amounts and documentation for individual businesses are confidential, said Mishawn Cook, the city of Boulder's licensing clerk.

Calling it a "heartbreaking" decision to lay off employees and close the door of an institution, Ochoa said the shop had not turned a profit since July. Complicating matters were that more money needed to be invested in the business -- the building needed a new roof, and her family and the California-based ownership of the cafe were more than 1,000 miles away, she said.

After June 1, the ownership of the Boulder shop along with an Espresso Roma in San Diego were transferred to Ochoa and her sister as the result of a divorce decree between Ochoa's sister and husband, Sandy. As a result, Espresso Roma Corp., which is owned by Sandy Boyd, no longer has an ownership interest in the Boulder cafe.

Ochoa placed a sign on the door indicating "improvements (are) in progress" because she said the family hopes to reopen the business.

University of Colorado graduate student Mallory Keeler shows her surprise after finding the doors locked at Espresso Roma on University Hill in Boulder on
University of Colorado graduate student Mallory Keeler shows her surprise after finding the doors locked at Espresso Roma on University Hill in Boulder on Wednesday. (JEREMY PAPASSO)

"It's hard to give up the dream of Roma," she said.

However, whether the business that reopens is Espresso Roma remains to be seen.

After conversations with Espresso Roma's ownership, city licensing officials are anticipating that a new business license application and change of trade name application could be filed in the near future, Cook said.

Ochoa said no determinations have been made as to the future of the space. Espresso Roma's return would require a cash infusion, she said.

'Holding onto that vibe'

Employees and customers, fondly referred to as "Romans," said Wednesday that they were shocked and saddened by the loss of the coffee shop. They were notified of the impending closure only two hours before Espresso Roma went dark Tuesday, said Lydia Schultz, a manager of the café.

Schultz said many residents are losing a gathering space and Boulder is losing an important piece of its culture.

She said she loved that Espresso Roma was a place where people weren't buried in their laptops and instead served as a spot where people would go to talk and trade ideas. It served as a place for the creatives, she said, noting that the FORAY Arts Collective was founded at Espresso Roma.

Espresso Roma also was a place where she received a dozen hugs a day, Schultz said.

"I definitely know there is a community out there that is looking for a more authentic place to hang out ... like Penny Lane," she said, referring to the longtime downtown Boulder coffee shop that closed in 2005. "Everybody comes to Roma and talks about how Boulder used to be.

"We're holding onto that vibe; we're hoping that it comes back."

Schultz said some employees and patrons have scheduled a meeting to discuss options such as opening a co-op coffee shop in Boulder.

'A sense of place'

On a cold and cloudy Wednesday in Boulder, Espresso Roma's southern patio remained active with coffee drinkers, although the business itself had been closed since 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Drinking coffee and tea from other neighboring establishments, several Espresso Roma regulars and employees gathered to share their memories, gain a sense of closure and talk about next steps -- both business and personal, said Theodore "Taj" Matuszak, a former barista at the Hill shop.

"We're all pretty much living paycheck to paycheck," he said.

Matuszak and others on the patio also said they were concerned about how the closure would affect their employees and others in the community -- including those who are homeless or have disabilities -- who were treated to a safe, warm place in times of need.

Mark Gelband, a Boulder resident who has frequented Espresso Roma since its beginnings, said the coffee shop's clientele was a broad cross-section of Boulder.

"What we lost was a sense of place for any number of people," he said.

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com.