Cafe for anchoring communities: An idea I'm afraid to step forward with.

  So here's a brief run down. I'm a Portland barista and have always dreamt of opening a cafe (like many of us), and the first thing that comes to mind is that I want to do this in Portland. I do. I love it here, it is my favorite, but we're extremely packed full of cafes already. This got me thinking of neighborhood where there isn't a cafe for miles.

  I've been reading up lately on strategies to battle and defend against gentrification (which runs rampant 'round these parts) and suddenly an idea came, inspired by Max Remau's Take Back The Land! Opening cafes in neighborhoods potentially drowned in gentrification. Touchy. So, some simple (on paper) ideas I have so far are these:

 

~Co-op run by members of the neighborhood.

 

~All employees from said neighborhood.

 

~Constant stream of "concious" artists for events and decor. 

 

~Host community discussions, events and meetings of other community planners.

 

~Encourage support for positively active civic leaders, NGOs, non-profits, grassroots orgs, through media we provide, and events held (what I'm thinking here is a sort of community library for what's going on locally).

 

~Possibly host classes for combatting homelessness, gentrification, education on people's rights, legal lingo, renter buyouts, etc.

 

  How this would help in anchoring communities is in that gentrification usually sparks in neighborhoods that are abandoned by the city because of a low flow of capital in the area. Often times areas that the city buys (usually out from under the feet of people with no where to go, and usually minorities) are just left to rot (Portlanders, I know you know what I'm talkin' about, inner Williams, for example). But if a cafe was set up to bring the city a little revenue, a little attention to the area, and people in the neighborhoods were given a little education, it could help in slowing gentrification, building community awareness, and hopefully improve the quality of neighborhoods without pushing the people out. 

  I know this is ballsy and this is a bit dangerous and unconventional, financially and communally, but truly I think with enough effort this is doable. Let me know what you think (if you've read this far, thank you).

 

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If your Dream is strong enough and you work hard enough and long enough to achieve it you'll find a way to make it happen. Just know Dreams include Nightmares. Don't let the Nightmares stop you.

Fear, False Evidence Appearing Real, can cripple you. If you wait for something worth doing to feel comfortable doing you'll never do it. The difference between those who succeed or fail is often simply being stubborn and pig headed enough to move forward and keep moving forward against all odds. Most great achievements are finally made only after many failures. Comfort Zones are for drones, not for people who want to accomplish more in life.
Thanks Mike, I appreciate the encouragement greatly.
Sounds like a great idea for a space, it seems so rarely that coffeehouses these days have a good community forum going on. The trick is to be able to provide all of those community building activities while still staying afloat, requires a lot of dedication, but I've seen it done.
Hi Alex,

Sounds like an interesting idea. I think that many good coffeehouses are reflections of their neighborhoods, and grow to be hubs and meeting places for the community. Taking this concept seriously from the get-go sounds like a good plan.

I believe that there's a shop opening here in Charlotte with a very similar philosophy. I'm not working directly with them, so am not sure, but what I've heard sounds similar. I'll ask around a bit, and if so I'll share some of their experiences.

Good luck.
This is completely doable.
Check out The Root Cafe in Lakewood, OH.
Hey! I'm from Portland too and I love this idea! I live in the (almost) completely gentrified Mississippi neighborhood and totally get it. I'd love to network and connect on this idea! Love the idea of community development fused with Portland lovely coffee culture.
That would be excellent Brady, thank you.

Brady said:
Hi Alex,

Sounds like an interesting idea. I think that many good coffeehouses are reflections of their neighborhoods, and grow to be hubs and meeting places for the community. Taking this concept seriously from the get-go sounds like a good plan.

I believe that there's a shop opening here in Charlotte with a very similar philosophy. I'm not working directly with them, so am not sure, but what I've heard sounds similar. I'll ask around a bit, and if so I'll share some of their experiences.

Good luck.
Will do, thanks!

Alexis Kepford said:
This is completely doable.
Check out The Root Cafe in Lakewood, OH.
Yeah, I think that the main problem I'll be running into is that a lot of those neighborhoods don't have a lot of foot traffic, which would make the events absolutely necessary. They'll have to be consistent and publicized very thoroughly, among other things.

ian dawson said:
Sounds like a great idea for a space, it seems so rarely that coffeehouses these days have a good community forum going on. The trick is to be able to provide all of those community building activities while still staying afloat, requires a lot of dedication, but I've seen it done.
Alex, this sounds great! I worked at a coffee shop in Chicago in a neighborhood deemed to be the most diverse neighborhood in the US, and it definitely was fighting gentrification. You can check out the website http://commoncupchicago.com/index.htm After opening up, all of the local residents seemed to have similar responses of, "We needed a place like this." The neighborhood residents are very appreciative of the 'third space' that they now have and how it is supporting their neighborhood. It was very obvious that it filled a deep void. I imagine yours will fill a similar void.
I would avoid organizing it as a coop. You will have enough challenges getting this off the ground without dealing with coop politics and members whose priorities may turn out to be very different from your own. You might also consider giving "preference" to local residents, rather than making it an absolute requirement for employment. Good staff are not easy to find!
Marshall hits several good points.

I know that the shop here in Charlotte has run into quite a few problems with the co-op approach. They have a real problem with people getting ideas and just doing them without talking about it, or in several cases, even thinking about it too much. They've built, torn down, and rebuilt several things in the shop as a result - like the bar that someone built without considering usability or ADA requirements. Or the plumbing layout. Or the wiring. Etc...

Focus, communication, clear direction, and leadership are critical for achieving something like a cafe upfit on a tight budget and timeline. I suppose you could do it as a group, but be careful.

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