Loyal customers of Highland Coffees took to social media Monday to protest the impending closure of the longtime LSU-area coffee shop.

An online petition to keep the business open in its Chimes Street location had about 3,500 signatures by Monday evening. It was announced earlier in the day the coffee shop will close on Dec. 24 because its lease is ending and an agreement couldn’t be reached on a new lease. With prospects slim for the business finding another location nearby, patrons were upset with the news.

“I think there’s going to be a revolt about closing this business, once they realize how much it means to people,” said Josh Causey, pastor of The Ring Community Church, who was reading a newspaper at the coffee shop. Causey said he started going to Highland Coffees several years ago.

Mallory Thomas, a graduate student in geography, said she has been going to Highland Coffees for six years, since she was an undergraduate living in the nearby Pentagon dorms. Thomas said the shop is an important meeting place for student organizations and a business that attracts people to the North Gates.

“We’re surprised and very disappointed with what happened,” said Clarke Cadzow, owner of Highland Coffees. “We loved being a part of this neighborhood for the past 25 years.”

Cadzow said he’s looking to stay in the LSU North Gates area. He’s served as head of the North Gates Merchants Association and become a historian of the neighborhood. “The problem is, there are no spots available and not much time left,” he said.

Hank Saurage, who is in the real estate business and is part owner of the shopping center that houses Highland Coffees, said both sides could not reach an agreement on a new lease after the current deal expires on Nov. 30. “Everybody is getting the wrong idea,” Saurage said. “The lease was expiring and we could not come to terms.”

Saurage said he was sad that a deal couldn’t be struck. “I really like Clarke and I respect everything that he’s done,” he said. “He’s been great for the area and great for everything.”

Speculation swirled across the Highland Coffees Facebook page that Saurage wanted to force the business out to make room for a CC’s Coffee House. Saurage, who is a partner and managing broker of Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate, is the great-grandson of H.N. “Cap” Saurage, who founded Community Coffee in 1919.

But Saurage said CC’s has no plans to move into the space. “It’s too big, and it doesn’t fit the model of a multichain coffee company,” he said.

It’s too soon to say what will go into the space, Saurage said.

Saurage said he hoped the online activity would make it easier for Cadzow to find a new home for Highland Coffees.

Cadzow opened Highland Coffees at the corner of Highland Road and State Street in fall 1989. He was inspired to start the business after being introduced to college coffee houses while attending graduate school at the University of Texas.

“I could never imagine being anywhere else in Baton Rouge,” he said. “There’s such a close connection with the students, the graduate students, the professors, the people who work at LSU. They all have an interest to make the neighborhood better.”

In the mid-1990s, Highland Coffees relocated into a 3,000-square-foot space a little off the corner of Highland and State Street.

The North Gate area has seen a number of changes over recent years. New developments have brought in national chains, such as Five Guys, Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings. At the same time, the neighborhood has been hampered by a lack of parking spaces for visitors. The owners of Louie’s Cafe bought an empty Wendy’s building at 3322 Lake St. in order to have more parking and are in the process of moving the business over from West State Street.

“This is just a really peaceful place,” said Evie Duhon, a sophomore at LSU, who was at Highland Coffees with her friend, Cisley Stutes. They were huddled over a laptop, trying to figure out where they will go for spring break. “It’s not crowded and it’s outside of campus.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.