CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY | By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
This week I feel the need to talk about something very close to my heart: coffee. More specifically, coffee shops.
After living in Burlington for a decade and spending a large percentage of that time writing in one of the multiple coffee shops there, I was concerned about Rutland’s lack of caffeine (as I remembered it to be from many years ago). But joy! When I moved here I discovered not one, but two coffee shops. At that time, downtown was still mostly empty but my intuition told me that where there is coffee there is life (in a town, that is).
When Coffee Exchange/Clem’s closed for an extended period of time after that crazy flood a few years back and then Café Terra locked its doors during an ownership transition, I felt the city had lost some of its flavor, its sauce, its java. But now, I am so happy to see not only these two cafés reopened and full of life again, but also the recently reopened Leaf Café in the Asa Bloomer building and the latest addition, The Bakery.
What is it about coffee shops that causes me to claim that their existence is a positive omen? Well, let me first make an observation about some other places I have lived and visited.
We all know Burlington’s Church Street: a bustling hive of activity during the warmer months of the year. If I can recall correctly, there are at least four coffee shops directly on Church and others on adjacent streets. Here people gather to chat and create, alone and together, often spilling out onto outdoor tables to do so.
Hattiesburg, Miss.: A college town where the local java joint was always full of laughing, talking, studying patrons. And where a 1940s hole-in-the-wall café became a hang-out for both young creative and old-timers, creating an anchor for the quickly revitalizing downtown.
Vancouver, BC: A city that doesn’t sleep apparently. Here there are Starbucks on every corner where caffeine is still being consumed late into the night. But also here, in each smaller neighborhood, the local coffee shop is where neighbors run into each other and have a quick chat or where friends hang out over their lattes.
And I could go on. I’ve witnessed the same in Middlebury, Brandon, Washington D.C., Boston, New Orleans, and many places in between. (And of course, there’s the quintessential Paris coffee shop… one day…).
Let’s look at our three main establishments: Coffee Exchange, Speakeasy, and The Bakery. They each have a distinct personality and each one serves its purpose.
“Creative thinking and visualization is how things change and grow. And it is when creative thinkers gather that revolutions happen.”
Coffee Exchange can at times be very lively. It seems to attract a young/young-at-heart crowd, several who appear to be students from the area colleges, and many of whom know each other and joke around while waiting for their vietuals. Here people meet for informal business meetings and coffee “dates,” and there are the occasional lap-toppers managing to get something written/done. (I’ve also been there when it has been very quiet; I don’t mean to give an unbalanced impression.)
Speakeasy Café is where (in general) the work happens. It tends to appeal to a slightly older demographic and it is where writers write and business people meet. It lends itself to quiet conversation. I met almost everyone I know in this town through or at this coffee shop. I have this job because of it (thank you)!
The Bakery appears to be more of a run in-and-grab-a-cup place, but it is also attracting the business-lunch crowd and friends who want to chat over a yummy baked good.
But what do they have in common? They are a central — and neutral — place to meet your neighbors, friends, and colleagues. It seems that the coffee shop may be the successor of the general store in that it is now the place for people to gather informally to gossip and check in. But coffee shops are more than that: they are a hotbed of creativity. And it is this fact that makes me believe in their absolute necessity in a vibrant community.
It is in coffee shops where friends can catch up and strangers can get to know each other and new connections and new ideas can be formed and acted upon. It is in coffee shops that people can learn about what’s going on in their community, through conversation, the bulletin board, and even the sometimes acceptable art of eaves-dropping.
And it is in coffee shops where creatives can get inspired. It is for this reason that an article in Elephant Journal places working in a café or coffee shop as number one on the list of “3 Surprising Things That Will Increase Your Productivity at-Work by 30 percent Each.” (The other two, if you’re interested, are taking a dog to work and meditating/slowing down).
The article suggests that you “invite chaos — and good coffee — and community into your life. It’ll make you happier, more awake (in both the caffeinated and spiritual sense). Why? Because your mind needs gaps, not just focus, for creativity. Certain things require focus. But too much focus, and the mind grows tired, depressed, inward-looking instead of fun, resourceful, visionary.”
And why is creativity important to a community? Because creative thinking and visualization is how things change and grow. And it is when creative thinkers gather that revolutions happen.
Just don’t forget to add the caffeine.
The Circles of Community Weekly Writing Prompt
Each week I will post two prompts related to this week’s article, one for personal insight and one for a creative springboard. Let them lead you where you want to go!
- Prompt 1: My favorite place to meet with friends is…
- Prompt 2: They had arranged to meet at the local coffee shop…