In the world of community development, the idea of “the third place” has gained a fair bit of attention over the last few decades. A “third place” is basically a social environment distinct from home and work; think of the bar “where everybody knows your name” in the popular TV series Cheers, which ran from 1982 to 1993 and is still a staple on the rerun cable channels.
For more than a decade, Finales Coffee House has been my primary third place. Actually it has probably been more than a third place, as it has served me as both something of an office and a meeting space. You see, saint benedict’s table doesn’t have an office at All Saints’ Church, and while I’ve got all of my books carefully organized on the third floor of our house, that space also doubles as a home office for Catherine. I’ve discovered that I’m best to get up and moving in the mornings, down the street to Finales with my laptop, day-timer, and a book or two stored in my backpack. An hour or so later, and I’m ready for whatever meeting, appointment, or commitment comes next… and often that meeting will actually be held in Finales over yet another cup of coffee.
I can’t imagine how many conversations I’ve had in that place over the years. I’ve met with any number of couples to discuss wedding plans; I’ve sat with people as they’ve talked through really difficult and painful issues; Larry and I have held worship planning sessions there, and Jaylene and I have sat and brainstormed all manner of things related to life at saint ben’s. For over a year now, our Emotional Wellness group has even used the place for our monthly coffee and conversation evenings.
I’ve written almost all of my sermons there over the past decade, and did a fair bit of work there on the final draft of my book, God’s Mind in that Music. The creative gears start turning the moment I walk out the front door of our house, such that by the time I’ve got my coffee in hand the words are already pouring out onto the computer keyboard. It is just the way my mind works, and partly because I am such a creature of habit it is hard to imagine not heading up to the corner.
The problem is that as of last Friday Finales has gone out of business. Earlier in the week the owner—a congenial and welcoming guy named Sham—told me that he’d finally made the decision to close the place. I wasn’t entirely surprised, as I knew that for some time he’d been pressed to make a go of it all. Over the years he’d expanded the menu to include more than just coffee and dessert, and had increasingly relied on the catering end of things to make it all work. But it was a big piece of real estate to keep afloat, and with all that goes into making a restaurant work—including things like taxes and city codes—it just wasn’t that easy to turn a reasonable profit. And then just a couple of months ago, a new Tim Horton’s opened just across the street…
Sham told me that he was planning to return to Trinidad, where things were considerably less complicated. He told me that four of his friends had emigrated from Trinidad at the same time he had, and that two had already returned home and the others were now all planning to follow suit. Again, I wasn’t entirely surprised, as several times over this past long, cold winter Sham had told me that every year the Winnipeg cold became less and less livable for him; that a return to Trinidad was looking increasingly attractive. From both a business and a personal perspective it is hard to blame him for making these decisions, but (somewhat selfishly…) I really do wish it were otherwise.
For me, Finales was a “local” place in two important senses; both locally owned—which is something I value and support—and also located in my own neighborhood, an easy five minute walk from my home. Most mornings when I walked through the door, my coffee was already being poured—a large dark roast, served in a real mug—and just as often the person behind the counter would greet me by name. There’s that Cheers thing again. And I never felt anything but welcome at Finales, even after an unusually extended stay. Customer loyalty cuts both ways in such places. I’ll miss that.
Now, if I could only figure out where I’ll write this week’s sermon…