Every community needs a Great Good Place
August 28, 2006
Ann Owsley and Patti Stranahan, among others, are working hard to reopen the Woody Creek Store and Community Center. It will require a ton of money to bring that place up to code and right now the concentration is on fundraising. The fact that the place now has nonprofit status may be an important asset in that arena.It was immediately obvious that many of us would miss having the store. It was a wonderful convenience, a place right in our neighborhood where we could pick up a few groceries or have a cup of coffee and a breakfast snack after picking up our mail at the Woody Creek post office. But convenience was only one aspect of the store. It wasn’t until after the doors closed that I realized what I missed more than anything was the fellowship and the camaraderie that was generated within that place.Although there were plans to create a community center for Woody Creek, the store already was evolving into just such a place. Once Ann began serving coffee and snacks in the morning, you could walk in and almost without fail run into friends and neighbors.I would suggest that we didn’t lose a “store,” we lost a beloved “rumor mill.” Perhaps rumor mill is a bit harsh, but if there happened to be a juicy rumor kicking around the neighborhood, the odds were fairly good that you could hear it in the Woody Creek Store. While men have traditionally accused women of being addicted to gossip, it seems that men are just as addicted – they simply refuse to call their stories “gossip.” We tend to view our little tidbits about our friends and neighbors as “news.” And the store was slowing becoming Woody Creek’s news central and that is to be deeply missed. It was great fun to go in the store in the morning and chat with neighbors, to find out what was going on in their corner of Woody Creek, to exchange views on local politics and on occasion to hear the sad news about a friend who died. Human relationships are vital to any community, and the free and easy interchange between individuals that occurred in the Woody Creek Store was a delight to experience. And there also was the fact that the place may have had the best coffee in the valley, which made a visit that much more enjoyable. Quite frankly, I hate writing about the store in the past tense. I’m not privy to the financial needs there, but I do know the people involved and am certain they can pull it off and the store will open down the line.If you want a deeper understanding of a place such as the Woody Creek Store, I would encourage you to get a copy of Ray Oldenburg’s book “The Great Good Place.” In his book, Oldenburg uses the term “third places” to describe places such as the store, places that come after home, first, and workplace, second. And while these third places serve to connect regular members of any given community, they also serve as “ports of entry” for visitors and a place where new residents can introduce themselves to their neighbors.It would be wrong for me to claim that the Woody Creek Store is unique in functioning as a Great Good Place. The valley is filled with such spots, places where regulars gather in the morning for coffee or after work for a beer or cocktail. It really doesn’t matter where those gatherings take place – the important aspect is that they happen on a regular basis.You can go to the Yellow Pages to find a plumber, but if you frequent a third place, if you are a regular member of a microcommunity, all you have to do is ask your friends. Most will have fairly strong opinions on who is the best man for some repair work around the house, or the guy to call to correct an electrical problem, or a good dentist or lawyer or whatever. Most of your friends probably will speak from experience and if you make enough inquiries, odds are that one or two names will be recommended repeatedly. That is probably where you want to go. On the flip side of that, you may also be warned away from some individuals who are considered to be rip-off artists. It is difficult to keep secrets in a small community. A third place is inclusive and local. You do not have to apply for a membership or pay a membership fee. You simply show up on a regular basis, and you either will be accepted for yourself and how you conduct yourself or you will be shunned and viewed as an unwelcome participant. Third places are reasonably egalitarian places but it is up to the individual to find his niche and not the other way around.Another positive feature of third places is that they tend to produce an abundance of smiles and laughter and very little anger. The participants may rag on one another with regularity but such conduct is seldom mean-spirited. More often than not, the recipient of well-aimed barbs will laugh right along with the individual who sent it flying in his direction. And as if by design, the recipient of the barb will fire a shot back at his antagonist, usually generating more laughter.No, it is my belief that everyone needs a third place to call his own. If you think about it, you may already belong to a third place and when the Woody Creek Store (and Community Center) opens once again, you might want to take a good look because it is a Great Good Place. This is the 332nd article in a two-part series devoted to the community of Woody Creek, a place that isn’t afraid to laugh at itself and share the laughter with others.