Final Post and Looking Forward: Coffeehouse Communities

Throughout the course of this summer and into this fall, I had the chance to engage with data that I really felt was relevant to present day, and my generation in particular. Sociological Research in the form of “Bowling Alone” and other works really emphasizes the fear that the sense of community that Americans once felt is dying, and those “great, good places” in society are not filling the social need that they used to. The people that have made their fortune on creating coffeehouse communities would disagree – and my research tends to as well. New Urbanist environments and carefully cultured internal factors have led to the “third place” of the coffee shop being a true part of the community that their customers experience everyday. The Sense of Community that is fostered in these coffeehouses adds to satisfaction of each customer, and the likelihood that they will promote the business to their connections. From a marketing standpoint, creating a community connection certainly can add to the bottom line.

However, there is something to be said for the idea of scale, or McDonaldization, of these third places. The greater the scale (think Starbucks), the less community felt by the customers/guests. And this makes sense – would you feel 100% at home and part of a community in a Starbucks that is exactly like the one down the street? Many people do, but the fact of the matter is that unique third places build a better sense of community than chains can at every location.

There is a lot more to be studied with regard to this research. I would like to further look into the role that New Urbanism plays in creating Sense of Community in third places, and whether it is actually scale effects that decrease sense of community, or in fact just a perceived loss of authenticity. There is also more research to be done via the extension of third places – does this apply just to coffeehouses, or the bars, burger joints, and Applebee’s of the world? Finally, I would like to see some in-depth interviews applied to this research, so that there can be more emotion and critical understanding of the situation applied to these findings – and potentially raise more findings. One thing that I never was able to do, due to the scale of my own project, was apply quantitative measures to finding New Urbanist locations. I had the data, but the geographic scale (America) of my project was too huge to map accurately via GIS. One study that might be useful in future studies is a more narrowed focus on, say, Williamsburg, so as to better target the study and the results.

I learned a lot from this project, including the difficulties of navigating Qualtrics, SPSS, and GIS. I hope that my findings will prove useful to the marketing/sociological communities, but regardless I know that the tools and harnessed and research methods I learned will definitely serve me well in my future endeavors. It will be interesting to see where this research goes from here – either by me, or someone else – and to see how the Third Place continues to remain a place of community for American Society.