Yesterday I went to the post office to pick up some Priority Mail envelopes and drop off a certified letter. In Laytonsville, population 353 at the last census, the post office is the center of the town activities and full of activity. I always see someone I know. Yesterday it was my dentist. I can meet new people, as I did yesterday when I learned about a local dog trainer. And I can find resources on the bulletin board. I left with two cards and a name of a third repair person I could call about some equipment that needs work.
I remember when I lived other places that there was always a place where locals congregated and you could learn all the news. When I lived in Connecticut, it was Luke’s Donut Shop. At our home in Saint Michaels, my husband would tell you it’s the local YMCA.
What is a “third place”? It’s that place where people gather other than work or home and feel a place of community. I’m sure you can think of places you know of, whether that’s the fictional Cheers of TV fame or the local coffee shop.
According to Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist who wrote The Great Good Place and Celebrating the Third Place, all third places have the following eight characteristics: neutral ground, a leveler, conversation is the main activity here, assessable and accommodating, has a the regulars, maintains a low profile, has a playful mood, and home away for home. The idea is that people are free to speak their thoughts and opinions freely.
It is easy to see the coffee shop or the local book store as the “third place.” I think it’s also easy to think about the local quilt or creative arts shop as the “third place,” even though it doesn’t technically meet all the eight characteristics. I think it’s about a sense of belonging, and I think that all creative arts and quilt shops foster that. Think about your experience at the local quilt shop and what made you feel like you were part of a community.
If you own or manage a creative retail shop, what are you doing to create that third place community feeling? Here are some of the ideas from shops I know or frequent.
- Be welcoming. When customers come into your shop, greet them. Ask them what project they are working on. Nothing makes you want to come back like feeling welcome on the first visit.
- Have a space set up where customers can congregate to look at quilting or art books and/or share their projects. I used to love to go to Borders Bookstore when it existed because I could find a chair to sit and look at a book.
- Create special events. Look at other businesses outside the industry to see how they create events that draw customers in and make them feel welcome. We are all looking for an experience, a shared experience, so look for ways to create experiences. Disney is a great example here. Another example: in September I went with my neighborhood book club to an annual book club party hosted by author Lisa Scottoline at her home in Pennsylvania.
- Look for ways to create shared connections. A monthly stash buster club or fabric club is an idea here.
- Consider a monthly show and tell for your customers. This encourages them to engage with others.
- Set up a gallery in your shop and showcase different artists. Have an opening reception with a talk from the artists.
- Serve food. I don’t know a quilter who doesn’t like a beverage and a cookie. In the winter have some hot cider and gingersnaps. In the summer, lemonade and sugar cookies. Some of you may remember a shop called Patchwork and Pies in New York that was owned by Clara Travis. I loved the image of stopping in the quilt shop and picking up a slice of pie.
- Run a book club that focuses on a particular artist’s work or designs.
- Host a monthly “sit and stitch.”
- Think about ways that you can offer your space to other uses in your community, e.g., let the local knitting club meet there, or depending on the size of your town, even an association that needs space for a small meeting. It’s about encouraging community.
I’m sure you can come up with other ideas. Remember that in creating the experiences that lead to your third place, you don’t have to do them for free. I think you can create a sense of community with a bit of exclusivity with a small fee. And, remember that you are never done. Creating your third place is ongoing.
If you are a shop owner, what you are doing to create a “third place”? And, as shoppers, what makes you designate someplace your third place?