DRYDEN — Back when Myrna Brown was still a newcomer from New Jersey, the Dryden Community Center Cafe was the new center of her world.
“This place saved me,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody, and one day I saw a sign for volunteers.”
So five years ago, Brown signed up to volunteer at the nonprofit cafe that relied heavily on volunteers like her throughout its nearly 12-year existence.
But on Jan. 31, that 12-year run will come to an end when the cafe closes for good.
“It has always been kind of hand-to-mouth,” said Evan Kurtz, one of the original organizers and a former board member of the nonprofit that runs the cafe. “There were several times in last 12 years where people have looked at each other and said, ‘Can we keep this going?’”
This time around, the board members decided they couldn’t, Kurtz said.
While the cafe itself will close, that doesn’t mean the community center will cease to exist.
The board intends to find a new home for it, but so far a new location has not yet been found, said Rob Monroe, vice president of the nonprofit’s board.
He said the cafe, run largely by volunteers, including help from the JM Murray Center in Cortland and the George Junior Republic in Freeville, fostered a unique work environment.
“In a volunteer situation, you have to deal with people differently,” he said. “You have to be a little more patient and a little more understanding. You can’t just demand things. It makes things a little more challenging but also a lot more fun.”
Monroe is also known as the guy who makes the cafe’s popular chili — which was also first place winner of last year’s cafe chili contest. About 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, he had just finished that day’s batch and was ready to serve it for lunch.
Kati Fisher, one of the cafe’s two paid staffers, was also working Wednesday. Fisher, who started working there 2 1/2 months ago, said she was sad she was about to lose “the best job I think I’ve ever had.”
“It’s been kind of a bummer,” she said, “but sometimes you just got to move on and find something better, which is my plan.”
Kurtz said closing the cafe is not something he or any of the board members wanted to do, but financial reality made it impossible to keep it going.
“You can only do so much,” he said. “We were never looking to make money off people, just keep things going.”