Jerry Davich 219-853-2563
Certain businesses in our region provide an intangible quality to customers beyond everyday products, services and consumer goods.
They offer them a “third place.”
If you’re not familiar with this term, it describes the third place destination in most people’s lives in addition to their two primary places — home and work. Without realizing it, many of us have a third place in our social orbit where we regularly return to spend our time and money.
It may be a local gym or a restaurant or a bar. It could be a bowling alley or a barbershop or a retail store. All that matters is that it provides a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere for patrons whose faces are familiar to each other.
Think of the legendary TV series “Cheers” and one of its popular patrons, Norm Peterson, who wandered into the bar every evening after work. everyone said in unison when he walked into the place. That bar was his third place.
People are also reading…
Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, describes the concept of a third place in his 1989 book, “The Great Good Place.” Its subtitle best sums up the scene: “Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day.”
Does this sound familiar in your life or possibly at your favorite business? Or maybe your third place is another type of business establishment. Oldenburg insists that third places are crucial for a civil society, for democracy and to establish a needed sense of place, if not a purpose, in our lives.
“What suburbia cries for are the means for people to gather easily, inexpensively, regularly, and pleasantly — a ‘place on the corner,’ real life alternatives to television, easy escapes from the cabin fever of marriage and family life,” he wrote. in his book.
The most popular third places in most communities are coffeehouses, which pour a steady drip of emotional perks for soul-thirsty customers. A welcoming environment. A convenient location. A familiar cast of customers. And a tasty beverage that can be nursed for hours.
I watch this in action at Sip Coffee House and Artisan Cafe, with multiple locations in Northwest Indiana. On a recent Saturday night, customers at the Sip Coffee House in Hobart acted as if they were at home, comfortably lounging at tables while casually chatting with friends.
Later that night, the art-filled coffeehouse hosted a live reading event for local writers who publicly, and bravely, shared a shade of their personal life with strangers. The shop’s warm, casual ambiance offers the perfect backdrop for similar gatherings. I wondered how many patrons there knew that it’s their third place.
Third places host the “regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work,” Oldenburg wrote.
Third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality, allowing customers to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them, he wrote in his 2000 book, “Celebrating the Third Place.”
Many of us celebrate our third place without knowing its crucial role in our lives. Last week I noticed two older men sitting in a booth at a pancake house restaurant in Portage. They were in no hurry to leave as they chatted with servers and other diners. They were obviously content to be at their third place.
It reminded me of a funny line I was once told by a cashier at The Wheel restaurant in Hammond: “I guess those kind of customers are too old for work and too young for the cemetery,” she said.
Oldenburg wrote in his book, “One individual may enjoy the company of others at a mutual haunt for years without ever having seen their spouses, never having visited their homes or the places where they work, and never having seen them against the duller backdrop of their existence on the ‘outside.'”
If you look around, you’ll notice third place destinations for region customers everywhere in your daily orbit. Here are just a few I’ve noticed: Arman’s hot dog stand in Miller, Maxwell Street Grill in South Holland, The Paragon restaurant in Hobart, J’s Breakfast Club in Gary, Stacks Bar & Grill in Valparaiso, and any Starbucks in every community across. the country.
The only true condition necessary to work at a third place business is to be a nice person, according to Oldenburg, who is 90 and lives in Florida.
“We have consistently relied upon the interesting and colorful personalities of our coworkers at the Third Place to keep the atmosphere intriguing, fresh and new,” he wrote in his book.
This is a crucial component to potential third places, especially for first-time customers. First impressions play a major factor for third places. Sometimes a second chance never happens, as most business owners understand.
Last week I tried a new restaurant, Smoketown Blues BBQ, in downtown Valparaiso. A man, who I’m guessing is the owner or manager, greeted me with a welcoming attitude and a warm disposition on a very cold night.
“We’re glad you’re here,” he told me.
For a second, I almost felt like Norm from “Cheers.”
This feeling of acceptance is the intoxicating elixir that’s always on tap at our favorite third place. Like I said, it goes well beyond a product or a service. It sells us a sense of community — a priceless aspect of commerce for any business.
Contact Jerry at Jerry.Davich@nwi.com. Watch his “She Said, He Said” podcast. Find him on Facebook. Opinions are those of the writer.