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What’s The Third Place?

by on 01/06/2004

First place is home, the second place is work, the third place is any neighborhood locale that encourages people to hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

Sounds like fun. Where can I find one of these third places?
The most reliable way is to go to Europe. Try a cafe in Paris or Rome. Or a pub in London. Not being from their neighborhoods, you’ll probably have to bring your own friends.

How about something a bit closer?

I’ve read that Howard Schultz got his inspiration from Italian cafes for transmogrifying Starbucks into European style third places. Some people don’t believe you can create the third place en masse, that to create the right atmosphere, the third place must be locally owned and operated.

Does a third place have to involve caffeine or booze?

Not at all. If you’re old enough, you might remember bowling leagues or hobby shops. If you’re young enough (in age or heart) you might have tried an Internet cafe. The third place can happen in any establishment that understands that people are each other’s best form of entertainment.

Can a third place be a shopping mall?

No, if you mean, as in Alderwood Mall or Bellevue Square. The ubiquitous enclosed shopping mall is designed solely to fatten your Visa balance (or Mastercard, Bon, Nordstrom, etc., they’re not choosey). Third place elements placed in malls, such as food courts and coffee stands, are in place to rejuvenate you for continued shopping, not to encourage malingering. Then again, who would have thought that the Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue, could have been transformed from a dive into an attractive community center, yet in the 80s, that’s what Ron Sher accomplished. So I guess anything is possible. Sher also developed Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, and recently, remodeled the former PCC Natural Market into Ravenna Third Place.

Where can I read more about the idea of The Third Place?

In addition to the links provided in this article, you can look at a couple of books: The Great Good Place defines the third place; Celebrating the Third Place describes third places around the U.S., including two local examples: the above mentioned Crossroads and the Blue Moon Tavern in the U District.

Can you list the attributes that define a third place?

A list is always definitive; that’s why all of us now choose mates via computer dating. We don’t? Oh. Then I guess a list is just good for grocery shopping and todos for busy people. Instead of a list, how about thinking of attributes as clues that a third place might be lurking inside those doors (or outside those doors).

There is more than one type of third place and types can be mixed. Primarily, there’s the drink, read, and talk joint, which usually (1) has drinks for sale — lattes or Italian sodas, English Breakfast or Sleepy Time, Guinness Stout or Bud Lite, Coke or Mountain Dew — as well as snacks or full meals to go with the drinks, (2) has places to sit conducive to privacy or socializing, your choice, (3) has reading material, free and for sale, (4) is not entirely dependent on rapid customer turnover, i.e, no one is hustling you to exit or to buy more drink or food as the condition of not exiting. Examples of this kind of third place include Barnes and Noble, Third Place Books, and the legendary Blue Moon Tavern, which probably belongs in its own class.

Usually flying under the radar of third place spotters is the hobby shop. To be a third place it must (1) not just sell items that support the hobby but have a place within the store to practice the hobby, (2) have regulars. Examples are Fantastic Games & and Hobbies and The Nock Point.

Another unrecognized third place may be the martial arts dojo, such as Aikido Seikikai, and the exercise club such as Harbor Square. At the dojo or gym, I would look for (1) longtime regulars, (2) friendliness from both staff and patrons, (3) a feeling that it’s not just about the money.

What do you think? Have I missed some categories? Would you put the third place label on local coffee and pastry shops such as Starbucks, Tully’s, or Brusseau’s? Or pubs — Rory’s and Engels? Or an Internet cafe, The Liquid Cafe? Denny’s? Costco?

From → Edmonds

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