Wade Cohen finishes Niall Horan’s mournful “This Town” amid a flutter of applause.
“That’s my memory song for Coffee Works,” says the founding proprietor of the once-popular roastery, cafe, and performance venue in Voorhees. He plans to close the place, which he likes to call his “living room,” on Friday.
“It’s really a good song at this moment in time,” Cohen, suddenly teary, tells me after leaving the stage.
“You don’t get this kind of passion every day.”
Tuesday marked the last karaoke night at Cohen’s quirky, eclectic establishment, where South Jersey filmmaker David Boorboor shot a scene for his horror flick “A Place in Hell” in 2014 and where local poets, playwrights, singer-songwriters, and java junkies have shared tables, created or road-tested their work, and made connections for nearly 20 years.
“Great regulars, employees, and friends,” says Kevin Carr Jr., 26, of Laurel Springs, who was kitchen manager before leaving to pursue an environmental science degree at Stockton University. “Plus there’s caffeine.”
Wednesday is the final open-mic session at Coffee Works. Friday will be the grand finale for what amateur guitarist/occasional performer Adin Mickle, 29, calls “a unique place where you can see a jaw-dropping performance or someone’s first time” on stage.
A videographer who lives in Gloucester Township, Mickle is helping plan Friday’s festivities. “It will be an open-stage kind of thing,” he says, “for anybody who has come through Coffee Works and feels like they need one last time to play.”
Cohen, 59, cites personal (and personnel) changes, as well as financial challenges -- he’s behind on the rent -- the churning of tenants at the Ritz shopping center, and multiple shifts of ownership at the center’s anchor multiplex movie theater, as contributing to his decision.
“I designed this space to stand the test of time, and when we opened on June 19, 1998, this center was the place to be,” he says.
“Back then, people went out at night. Now they don’t.”
In recent years Cohen too has been through changes: He got divorced, swapped his full-time job from mechanical engineering to high school engineering teacher, and had a falling-out with a business partner who closed Coffee Works in April of 2013.
Four months later, “I reopened it [as Coffee Works Too] because the community wanted me to reopen,” Cohen, a Voorhees resident and father of two teenagers, says. “People genuinely care [about Coffee Works]. But they don’t patronize.”
Fans of the place have been posting tributes and sharing condolences on social media, where Cohen announced the closing.
He also has penned a farewell statement, titled “I am Brewed From the Heart.” It salutes “the lines of contented customers, pleased patrons, many musicians, kooky karaoke-ers, phanatic philosophers, and ardent admirers” who have made Coffee Works their own.
Among them: Voorhees playwright Gerhardus C. Van Wilgen, a regular since 2005 who says he composed “much of a book of short stories about a stay-at-home dad and a play about Andrew Wyeth” while seated in his favorite spot on the big brown couch across from the stage.
“It’s a safe place, where people understand what you’re doing, and if you’re concentrating, they won’t bother you,” Van Wilgen, the board president of the Hothouse Theatre Company in Haddonfield, says.
Coffee Works has “a wonderful, soothing atmosphere,” says Suzy Sherbine, a mixed-media artist who lives in Voorhees.
“No place like it in the area,” she adds, noting that Cohen’s establishment has “encouraged emerging artists by welcoming them.”
Adds Westmont resident and musician Michael Tearson, the veteran Philadelphia radio personality: “I am sorry to see a most pleasant place close. … It was truly a nice place to meet for music.”
Cohen seems to have accepted that Coffee Works’ “good run” will end Friday; he’s as full of enthusiastic plans for a “Family Success” curriculum he’s designing as he is about the book he’s writing.
And his farewell statement pretty much says it all.
“This experience,” Cohen writes, “allows me to wind down with a peaceful heart.”