– 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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.