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Owner of Caffe Lena, One of the Oldest Coffeehouses, Dies at 66

October 23, 1989

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (AP) _ Lena Spencer, owner and founder of Caffe Lena, a folk music landmark where the likes of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie performed, died this morning. She was 66.

Ms. Spencer had been in critical condition at Ellis Hospital for much of past six weeks since falling down a flight of stairs at her coffeehouse in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Doctors said she suffered a heart attack either before or after the fall.

Ms. Spencer and her husband, Bill, opened Caffe Lena in May 1960. Over the years, the big names in folk music who played at Caffe Lena included Dylan, Don McLean, Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, David Bromberg, Steve Goodman, John Phillips and Maria Muldaur.

″The Caffe is my whole existence, the be-all and end-all of my life,″ Ms. Spencer said in a January 1989 interview.

When folk music suffered a decline in popularity in the late ’70s, Caffe Lena suffered as well and Ms. Spencer struggled to get by. She earned $32 for landing a bit role in the movie ″Ironweed″ which was filmed in the Albany area.

She and her husband divorced in the mid 1960s. Ms. Spencer spent the last several years living in a back room of her coffeehouse, a small, brick-walled place reached by climbing a flight of well-worn wooden stairs.

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