Cosmos fans added three pages of Yelp photos over the years
  • Cosmos fans added three pages of Yelp photos over the years
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Not a good start to the week for early risers or musicians: on Monday morning, September 1, the regulars at Cosmos Coffee Café in La Mesa arrived to find locked doors and a hand-chalked sign just inside the popular coffee shop. “It’s been a pleasure to serve the community of La Mesa for the last six years,” it said. “Cosmos is closed. Please check our website for updates.” It was signed “Cosmos Crew.”

As of this writing, the Cosmos website is offline.

“I found out about it on Facebook,” bassist Sam Johnson says. Johnson’s jazz trio (with tenor sax player George Kazas and Alan Worthington on guitar) performed at the coffee shop every Friday afternoon for the past eight years.

“We go way back to the original founders, Patrick and Paul, the two guys that started Cosmos.” Ari Bejar has owned the business for the past six years. “I sent Ari a text, and he wrote me back,” Johnson says. “He said he was trying to negotiate with the bank. And he thanked me for all of our work. Otherwise,” Johnson says, he and his band mates would have shown up there on Friday.

“I was surprised. I’m disappointed in the city, and in the way they’re doing things.”

In July 2014, La Mesa city planners launched a construction project to demolish, and then replace, the existing sidewalks, street lights, parking meters, trees, sewer lines, and amenities such as benches in the downtown area along La Mesa Boulevard from Acacia Avenue to 4th Street. Plans called for work to be performed on alternate sides of the street, one block at a time, with temporary pathways to shopkeepers’ front doors installed in an attempt to keep the village open for business.

Free parking was made available as well, but apparently it wasn’t enough incentive to keep cash registers ringing per usual through all of the bulldozing and jackhammering; this summer, O’Dunn’s Fine Art and Sanfilippo’s restaurant, both on La Mesa Boulevard, announced they’d be closing their doors.

The construction fallout likewise nixed popular summer events. For the past two summers, neither the antiques vendors’ street fair, nor the show of hot rods that was a Thursday-night tradition in the village have been able to participate. Then, there was the loss of Cosmos’ massive shade tree — a ficus better than two stories tall that some called a La Mesa landmark.

“I immediately noticed a difference in our turnout on Fridays after they cut it down,” Johnson says of the tree that shaded the coffee shop’s street-side patio “It had to be at least 100 years old. That tree was the essence of Cosmos,” he says. “People sat out there every day under it, and they bought coffee.” The tree met with the developer’s axe sometime last summer (reputedly, during the night), even though the sidewalk in front of Cosmos was not scheduled for demolition until August of this year.

Over the years of operation, Bejar showed support for local artists by hosting fine art and jewelry displays inside the café and by promoting musical events such as an open mic every Tuesday evening. “And Jim Earp was there on some Saturdays,” Johnson says. “Whenever he performed, the place was packed. Now, there’s one less venue.”

The construction project is said to be on schedule for completion in October. As for Cosmos' immediate future, amid rumors of everything from a last-minute investor to an outright buyout and change in ownership, Bejar did not return email requests for comment by press time.

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Ponzi Sept. 3, 2015 @ 4:03 p.m.

Terrible. I used to go there. They had great soups, and gluten free goods. The construction killed them. That construction project is mismanaged. I also tend to avoid that area of La Mesa anymore because Spring Street has become a short-cut between I-8 and I-94. La Mesa needs to do something about the horrible light timing and trolley adding to the congestion.

And the darndest thing is, everytime I did drive through there, which is about twice a week, I never saw any construction workers doing any work. Just a few heavy equipment rigs parked, no one in sight. Shame on La Mesa. And shame on the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce for sitting silent and not fighting for the work to progress faster.

I drove through there today and there is no way they will have that construction work completed by October. They still have roadblocks, torn up road and sidewalks. As slow as they have been going, you'd think only 3 people were doing the work.


AlexClarke Sept. 4, 2015 @ 5:23 a.m.

Most of the construction is being done at night. The plan includes the planting of trees as well as other pedestrian improvements. Overall the project will benefit the village. Some restaurants were able to retain some of their outside seating. Cosmos was not able to do so and it would be interesting to see what the agreement was between the City and the restaurant regarding the use of outside seating. As for Spring St. it has been a disaster since the early 70's. Eliminate the ability of traffic to go from 8-94. All the lights are timed for traffic but the trolley messes it up every time it comes into the station. There is no way that the traffic lights and trolley schedule can be times unless the trolley is made to stop like cars are and that ain't a gonna happen.


Ponzi Sept. 4, 2015 @ 6:59 a.m.

AlexClarke, thank you for the clarification on the construction. I still feel they could do much of the work during the day. As far as the street lights on Spring street go, they should have them go green at all intersections for a good 2 minutes, then green for all crossings. When the trolley is in the station, make it hold and let all Spring street go red and let the cross traffic take advantage of the trolley in station.

El Cajon has done a great job of timing their lights in their downtown. Even flashing yellow lights to let left turn traffic know the light is going to change to red. In contrast La Mesa is in the stone ages.

The state of Califonia/Cal-Trans is to blame for a lot of the congestion on Spring Street because they were too cheap to add fly-overs and/o other connections from I-125 to I-94. So commuters make a psychological choice of which is better... cross from I-8 to Spring Street, or continue to the congested (started at 3:00 pm) I-125 South, get off the horrible off ramp from I-125 to Spring Street and then contend with rude drivers that like to cut over and get onto the eastbound on-ramp to I-94 East. That is a little slice of hell because people drive down that ramp at freeway speeds and then make a left turn onto the foot of Spring Street at anywhere from 45 to 55 miles per hour. I am surprised that a disaster has not occurred.

By cutting down mature ficus trees, La Mesa has destroyed the charm of the Village. "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot" "They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum / And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em"

I don't know if those businesses had "business interruption insurance" or what, or if they could get a policy. In either case, if they had the coverage the insurance company would have sued the city of La Mesa for damages. One thing I know is my case is that my shopping habits have changed, I don't go to the "Village" anymore and I doubt that I will ever return. It's not the same. It was fine before. Now it's too stark and uninviting. Did the businesses ask for the improvements or was this just another government idea? This is another example of government thinking it knows best when it usually only makes things worse.


AlexClarke Sept. 4, 2015 @ 6:10 p.m.

It sounds like a politicians idea of a good idea.


Dave Good Sept. 8, 2015 @ 9:28 a.m.

The construction is being done during the day. I can attest to months of cement trucks and jackhammers, as can all of the village regulars.


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