The sun is setting on Pioneers, both literally and figuratively. It’s Thursday evening, and pink paper “EVERYTHING MUST GO” posters line the massive windows. As the late-afternoon light turns the crisp white floors to glowing gold, a frequent customer laments to an employee. “Oh no!” she groans. “You’re closing?”
After two years, the Durham church-meets-coffeehouse Pioneers is shutting its doors on February 25. The owners, Daniel and Sherei Lopez Jackson, announced the news in an Instagram post Tuesday. The caption implied that Pioneers was shutting down for financial reasons: “As we worked to keep up with the changing economic landscape downtown, it became clear that closing was the right decision,” it said. The owners declined a request for further comment.
However, Pioneers’ reputation has been fraught since the beginning. Located on West Geer Street, the conservative church café is nestled in the heart of a very LGBTQ+ accepting neighborhood in the already very accepting city of Durham. Though its founders claimed in an Instagram post that “people of every ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation are welcome in our space,” Pioneers, which is affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, will not marry queer couples.
Pioneers’ presence on Geer Street, which is lined with LGBTQ+ flags, prompted the creation of the satire Instagram account @realnativechurch. The account both organizes demonstrations against Pioneers and mocks their posts. It even carried an alternative version of the closing announcement: “Native Church was a community effort, even if that community ultimately rejected us.”
And it did. Two years of backlash has proved to be grating for the business. Weekly protesters gathered outside Pioneers’ front door, and a petition with over 7,500 signatures condemned the establishment. One couple even poured salt outside the building to ward off negative energy.
The sky is fully dark now, and Pioneers’ bright white interior beams boldly at the neighborhood before it. Across the street, Motorco’s twinkly lights cast warmth upon the growing crowd beneath them. As Pioneers shuts down for the day, the rest of the neighborhood is just getting started. In bubble letters, the funky rainbow mural directly facing Pioneers declares “Sweet Dreams.”
Above (from top): Signs in the windows at Pioneers signal the imminent closing of the combination church and coffee shop; nearby, rainbow flags line Geer Street. Photos by Sofie Buckminster — The 9th Street Journal