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The Important Role of Coffee Shops in Neighborhood Development

Walker Evans Walker Evans The Important Role of Coffee Shops in Neighborhood Development
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From March 17th to March 23rd, Columbus Underground is celebrating Coffee Week. Throughout the week, we’ll be taking a look at various coffee shops, roasters, brands, businesses and the people that contribute to this rapidly growing local movement.

When examining the rebirth of urban neighborhoods in any city across the US, one of the biggest chicken-and-egg questions is in regards to commercial development versus residential development. You have to have businesses and amenities to lure new residents to an area, but you also have to have a critical mass of residents in place to support those new businesses. So which one comes first?

One of the few outliers in the equation is the humble coffee shop. These cafes are often one of the first commercial operations to pop up in a new neighborhood or district, with the ability to not only draw together residents and customers, but to also generate activity that can lead to additional neighborhood development.

“The urban coffee shop is the unsung hero and catalyst of pedestrian activity and increased social activity in the city,” says Amanda Napoli in an article on Urban Times. “The establishment of a coffee culture helps in the creation of vibrant streetscapes and produces a large percentage of the pedestrian activity that is found in these areas.”

Several urban Columbus neighborhoods are home to coffee shops that have long served in this capacity; some of which predate many other commercial developments within close proximity. Stauf’s in Grandview Heights, the German Village Coffee Shop, and Cafe Brioso on Gay Street are all great examples of this notion.

“Independent coffee shops take on the character of their communities and cater to the needs of community members,” says Greg Ubert, President of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea. “A great coffee shop becomes a hub for social interaction, and all kinds of great things can happen as a result of these interactions. People feel more connected and less stressed, friendships are formed and strengthened, community problems are solved, and business deals are struck.”

East Franklinton is a Columbus neighborhood oft-cited as one of the next emerging hotspots for redevelopment. Currently, the area doesn’t have a dedicated coffee shop, though some local restaurants and delis are serving that purpose.

“We have Tommy’s Diner which is a great community gathering place and an institution for Franklinton,” says Jim Sweeney, Executive Director of the Franklinton Development Association. “Unfortunately, they close at 3pm, although I hear that later hours are planned.”

The crew at the 400 West Rich Street art studio building aren’t waiting for someone else to open a coffee shop, and plan to take matters into their own hands. Kris Howell, Development Manager at 400 West Rich says that a coffee shop either inside or adjacent to their building is currently a high priority.

“The best cafes tend to be centers of music, art, and ideas, and especially with the recent boom in coffee roasters, they can offer roasts specific to a neighborhood,” says Howell. “They’re the best way to get to know an area because you don’t have to spend a lot of money, they’re filled with locals, and they’re rare in that they’re social centers that you can feel comfortable going to alone.”

The Franklinton Development Association agrees with the assertion that a neighborhood coffee shops can serve as a bellweather for improvements and a catalyst for new development projects.

“I do think a coffee shop could be very beneficial to attracting other private development,” explains Sweeney. “It’s one of the things that many people want to have nearby when considering moving to a community. People need a ‘third place’ outside of work and home. A friendly place to relax and meet.”

On the other side of Downtown Columbus, Olde Towne East is a neighborhood that has been redeveloping over the past several decades. Coffee shops have played a role in this residential community, and there has been an uptick in commercial activity more recently, including the opening and closing of several cafes.

“I relate to our coffee shops in an office context — they are the neighborhood ‘water cooler’ — a place bringing people together and sharing stories,” says Matt Fennen, President of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association. “Since each of our neighborhood shops is not part of a chain, they bring different styles to Olde Towne East — some with poetry reading nights, another with Sunday dance events, and yet another with jazz sessions.”

Some of the neighborhood’s current shops include Upper Cup Coffee on Parsons Avenue, Zanzibar Brews and Gene Walker’s Cafe on Long Street and L’appat Patisserie on Oak Street. The variety that Fennen mentions provides area residents with multiple choices to fit multiple needs.

“As an independent business owner who works from home, our local coffee shops functions as my second office,” says Christy Wiliams, a resident of Olde Towne East. “They’re a casual place where I can meet clients from the suburbs and oftentimes provide their first experience with the neighborhood.”

The aforementioned Urban Times article goes on to compare and contrast the difference between suburban coffee shops that focus on quick drive-thru service and their urban counterparts which serve as more of a community hub. Napoli says that providing this environment is what leads to gradual cultural and environmental change in an urban neighborhood, and locals here in Columbus agree.

“Coffee shops offer a relaxed, neutral environment where people can lower their guard,” reinforces Ubert. “They function as a kind of adult playground — a fertile environment for generating and sharing ideas.”

While some of those ideas generated are more personal or private, others are plans for the next big thing: art shows, festivals, new business ventures, retail operations and civic infrastructure. While a high-quality caffeinated drink is certainly important to each customer, the role your local neighborhood coffee shop plays in improving your entire neighborhood can go far above and beyond what’s served in a single cup.

From March 17th to March 23rd, Columbus Underground is celebrating Coffee Week! Throughout the week, we’ll be taking a look at various coffee shops, roasters, brands, businesses and the people that contribute to this rapidly growing local movement. Coffee Week 2013 is sponsored by Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, providing handcrafted coffee to Columbus, OH since 1991. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter for more information.

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