Albuquerque’s Third Places: Michael Thomas Coffee

– Amos Stoltzfus

Mr. Stoltzfus is a guest contributor to Urban ABQ. More information about him can be found at the bottom of this post. Would you like to contribute to UrbanABQ.com? Email us at dan.j.majewski@gmail.com.

Michael Thomas Coffee now has a new neighbor: a gluten free bakery!
Michael Thomas Coffee now has a new neighbor: a gluten free bakery!

The term “third place” describes social spaces outside of the home and work that build a sense of community.

Walk into Michael Thomas Coffee – a small, family-run coffee shop and independent roaster located at 1111 Carlisle Blvd. in Southeast Albuquerque – and you are likely to be greeted within a few seconds. If you’ve been there before, the staff will probably remember your name.

The cozy interior of the coffee shop
The cozy interior of the coffee shop

When I want to catch up with my neighbors or find out if anyone has seen my dog (who has penchant for running away), I head to the coffee shop. It is the place to go when you are tired of being alone or you are tired of being tired.

When regulars talk about Michael Thomas, you will notice their tendency to use personal pronouns: This is my coffee shop. This is my place. But the physical space of the coffee shop forces us to share. Michael Thomas is cozy. And by cozy, I mean tiny. This is intentional. Hanging out at the coffee shop means that you’ll have to interact with people. Some of them may smell bad. That is part of the fun. It is this interaction that makes Michael Thomas such a special place. You come for the coffee, but you stay for the people.

Owner Michael Sweeney estimates that 75% of his revenue comes from the neighborhood. The price of a coffee is intentionally reasonable so that everyone in the neighborhood can afford a cup. If not, they will probably serve you anyway (you didn’t hear that from me).

Vibrant third places, such as Michael Thomas, are highly accessible to all, both geographically and financially. They promote social interaction, welcoming the usual suspects and newcomers. There is a feeling of comfort and belonging. My sense is that this is a rarity in Albuquerque. Like many cities, Albuquerque long ago separated residential and commercial uses. You can drive for miles through the neighborhoods on the West Side without seeing a local business. And if there is a potential third place nearby, there’s a good chance you will have to traverse a six-lane road to get there.

For many of us in Albuquerque who spend way too much time isolated in our cars and subdivisions and not enough time interacting with what makes all of us human, Michael Thomas Coffee reminds us that our lives are intricately connected to our neighbors, that we are never alone, and that a little love is only a cup of coffee away.

The addition of food trucks makes Michael Coffee even more awesome.
The addition of food trucks makes Michael Coffee even more awesome.

Amos Stoltzfus is a recent graduate of the Community & Regional Planning Master’s program at the University of New Mexico. He is currently employed as planning fellow with Granicus, a software development company dedicated to increasing government transparency and citizen participation. When he is not geeking out about urban planning, Amos can usually be found loitering at Michael Thomas Coffee or exploring Albuquerque on his bike.

2 thoughts on “Albuquerque’s Third Places: Michael Thomas Coffee”

  1. I WOULD LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT THE RAIL YARDS REDEVELOPMENT DOWNTOWN. HAVE RUN THE WHEELS MUSEUM 20 YEARS. LET ME KNOW IF YOU WOULD LIKE THIS. ALSO, MY FAMILY RAN A BUSINESS INDOWNTOWN FROM 1920-1990+ AND I HAVE A LOT OF STORIES ABOUT THAT TOO.
    THANKS. LEBA

  2. Michael Thomas – and the Source in general – is a great, warm space and a wonderful resource. What if the eroding parking lot across the street became a little park or square, with facilities and some sort of seasonal food market or bookstore or eatery in the run-down building that’s currently a church?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s