I receive a lot of news releases, but when I saw one last week I knew the information contained within it would get readers attention.
We hadn’t uncovered some massive scandal. There wasn’t a new company moving to town bringing thousands of jobs. Traffic wasn’t suddenly getting better.
Nope. It was more important than that. It was coffee. More specifically, the popular Buon Giorno Coffeehouse & Roastery. It was vacating its Florence Street location and moving a little closer to downtown, to the First on 7th project.
I knew readers would be interested because I see them at the current location all the time. I have never been in the shop when someone doesn’t at least look up and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” Usually, they ask me if I want to have a seat and have a cup o’ Joe together. Once I thought my streak was going to be broken, but just as I was leaving Charlie Powell from Ciera Bank walked in the door. We talked for at least 10 minutes before he said he’d better get to the meeting he was there for. My streak stands. But that’s the kind of place it is. You’ve probably got your own place like that.
I was right about the amount of interest. When I reported that Buon Giorno was headed to a new location, the story got read. The shop’s fans were a little nervous. And questions began to follow.
The First on 7th project (originally First National Bank of Fort Worth) is a 21-story tower that features the clean, unadorned geometry emblematic of mid-century modern architecture. It’s a cool building. Designed by New York’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and associate architect Preston M. Geren & Associates of Fort Worth, the building was completed in 1961. Red Oak Realty began a major update of the complex in December after Bank of America headed to Sundance Square.
The Buon Giorno current location only seats about 35 and it often fills up. Parking can be a challenge. Plenty of readers – and coffee drinkers – wondered if the new space would be large enough. It is larger, with 55 seats inside as well as a patio area with additional space. Whew, it passed on that test. Parking? It will be a bit different as First on 7th has a parking garage next to it. Parking for retail – free – will be on the ground floor. Despite that, I still heard from some fans. Change can be hard. I’m not surprised.
As any urban designer or Starbucks executive worth their latte could tell you, places like Buon Giorno can become very important to their community.
Many trace these ideas back to the great urbanist William H. Whyte, but these ideas were codified in a 1989 book, The Great Good Place by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. The subtitle of the book was originally Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You through the Day. Recent reprints have recast the subtitle to: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Ah, we were so much more poetic way back in 1989.
The book says people in cities typically live in a balance of three areas: home, the workplace, and some other place. It could be church. It could be a bar. It could be the library. It could be a coffee shop. Or, more likely, it’s some combination of those three.
To quote from the book:
"The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people's more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends...They are the heart of a community's social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape."
Other cultures, Oldenberg notes, have words that better describe this third area. The French use the term rendezvous, which may be more accurate, although it has some other connotations more horizontal in nature.
Oldenburg points out the historical role these “third places” have played, such as:
The American tavern in the American Revolution. Think Samuel Adams speechifying about the idea of freedom.
The French café in the French Revolution. Revolution was brewing, literally.
The London coffee house during the Enlightenment. England may mean tea, but coffee houses were key to ideas that led to the American Revolution.
The agora, or central public space in Greek city-states.
This idea of a “third place” drove Starbucks in the early days.
When Howard Behar, retired president of Starbucks, was speaking at TCU a few years ago, I asked him how important that idea was to the company.
It was key, he said.
He told a story about when he knew Starbucks was onto something big. The company had a store in Vancouver, British Columbia, that was doing well but it was in a building that some thought was in danger of demolition. Behar asked someone to secure another lease in the area. The lease went through faster than they thought it would, so Starbucks opened a new store right across the street from the old one.
Starbucks went ahead and opened the second store within walking distance of the first.
“The day we opened that store we doubled the volume on that corner,” Behar said. “We had a store generate a million dollars. And we had another store that generated almost a million dollars.
And the stores were serving two different kinds of customers.
“On one corner it was business people, and the other corner was for bikers. And they were as different as night and day. It was amazing! That's when I knew we had something,” he said.
The “third place” concept is key to all up and down the social sphere.
And it’s a key reason so many people were interested in Buon Giorno’s move. It’s hardly the only “third place” that engenders keen interest from its clientele. But if I go in the new spot and don’t see anyone I know, I’ll be very disappointed. I like my “third place.” I don’t want to lose it.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.