Saturday, December 12, 2009

In Search of the Great Third Place

When I read about the outcry over an Emmaus coffee shop (Mas Cafe) closing, it reminded me of Dr. Ray Oldenburg's "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community." I read Oldenburg's book shortly after we moved to the Lehigh Valley: in it, he travels all over the United States, seeking out the "third places" (meaning, a place to go when you aren't at home or work) where people congregate.

The Great Good Place argues that "third places" - where people can gather, put
aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of
good company and lively conversation - are the heart of a community's social
vitality and the grassroots of democracy.
For people living in big cities, open space and community gathering spaces are key. Apartments are small and many people don't have cars or prefer not to use them to get around. So their little neighborhood joints become part living room, part kitchen, part remote office, part conference room. The people who work at these businesses, and the other people who hang out there regularly, become a second (or third) family.

In a region like the Lehigh Valley, it's easy to get into a rhythm of driving from home to work and back again without getting to know your neighbors or spending any significant amount of time anywhere else. There are a lot of private clubs in the area, where mainly locals meet for cheap eats and drinks, gambling (shh...) and sometimes entertainment. But what about those of us who are new to the area? Especially if we aren't the kind of person to hang around a coffee shop and strike up conversations with complete strangers who might just be there to pick up something to drink and head back home or to work?

Do you have a Third Place? Would you nominate some of the best Third Places that might be a good place for a transplant to meet other like-minded individuals?


  1. In Allentown, there are none. I worked at Hava Java for almost seven years and since my departure the place has become less than an ideal place at all. It is truly sad to see Mas go, there really aren't enough places like it in the Valley.

  2. this is a brand new shop, but its already becoming my 3rd place:

    Blind Willow Book Shop in Emmaus.

    here are my reasons:
    -Books to read
    -Wireless internet
    -Coffee and/or Cider available w/ a donations basket (v. affordable)
    -Handsome bookstore staff (okay these people are my buds so I guess I'm biased).
    -Excellent music playing at a appropriate volume on the stereo system

    I plan to take some board games over there in the next few days so then I can add another reason.

  3. I have a favorite third place in my small, rural South Dakota community, so I’m sorry to hear that yours is closing. From a quick perusal of your blog, it would appear that you have a firm understanding and appreciation of their value to the community. Do your local community organizations have this same appreciation?

    It's a pretty new thing for people in SD to be thinking about, but little-by-little, it's gaining traction. Keep up the good work. Your writing appear to be a valuable addition to the community.

  4. Capri, wasn't Blind Willow featured in The Morning Call this past weekend? It sounds amazing!

    I would love for The Bookstore to be my third place, but it's way too expensive! I think it might be Hard Bean Cafe or Tallarico's Chocolates.

  5. My Third place is JOE'S TAVERN because it's super awesome and all the girls there almost have all their teeth!!!!

  6. The Funhouse. Great bartenders. Great patrons. Happy Hour is always a good time to spark up conversation with the folks that are in there.

  7. I really dig the Liberty St Tavern in Allentown. Great food, amazing beer selection, and a friendly crowd.

  8. It's worth noting that the building Mas Café was inhabiting is about to be taken over by their older competition.