a real chirpy third place

Linger outside Renzullo’s long enough and you’ll hear people chirping…“Hi Franco!”, “Bye Franco!” multiple times. There’s something different going on here and it rubs off on people…in a good way, a really good way.

Having a place you can hang out, where you can go just about anytime, leave anytime, that does not discriminate, and where people will talk to you is what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls the third place, in his book “The Great Good Place” (1989). The first place is home, the second place is work or school, and the third place is a community hangout place. Admittedly, for many, this is now an outdated idea of “our places,” after all not everyone has a job to go to, and, what’s more, work and home is the same place for many in this age of the “remote workplace.” Work can also look like a lot of unpaid labour in the home—the stay-at-home mom or dad—but I don’t think Oldenburg was thinking about the unpaid workforce.

Here’s what got me thinking about the third place:

Right now, my favourite third place is Renzullo Food Market, a deli and coffee shop on Nanaimo Street and Charles in Vancouver. In a way, I’ve only just discovered Renzullo’s, I mean I knew it was there and I really like the name…RenZULLO—fun to say every time you drive by, but I never stopped to check it out…until, a month ago when I started driving down Nanaimo Street to get to my new studio. Twice a week now I drive by to, and from, the studio.

I regret not having stopped there before! This family-owned business has been around since 1964. What blew me away is the friendliness of the barista, Franco. I mean it could be that I get extra connection because I’m Italian, he’s Italian, the guy from Columbus Meat Market that comes to get his coffee is Italian, so we are all Italian and we are chatting away in Italian disrespecting the coffee at some other coffee shop—“eh, you call that coffee!?” But no, it’s not just that I’m Italian, I see non-Italians connecting with him too.

So now, I know I can stop here for a latte on my way to the studio. It’s one of the very rare places I can get a good dose of connection, it’s a place where people know my name and I know they’ll talk to me. The friendliness of the family rubs off on the customers and everybody seems to have an easier time chatting. That’s a great third place.

There’s another coffee shop that I thought I might visit often as it is only two blocks from the studio. I went there twice and quickly decided, what’s the point? It’s a cool joint, with a cool name, that serves up lukewarm lattes, even if you ask for a hot one. Why this could never be a third place for me, is that the young, hip, staff (so far, they seem to be in their twenties) doesn’t have an interest in connecting, nor are they comfortable making small talk, nor do they want to know your name. I suppose the major difference between the two cafes is that one is family-owned and run and the other hires staff that don’t have an intrinsic connection to the business.

How does living in a city, a town, the countryside fill your happiness quota? What do we, humans, need to feel happy, to get a 10 out of 10 score? For me, connection, meaningful daily interactions, a sense of community (which can mean many things) are key to a happier life. Does the culture you/we live in center these values? My experience living in this city, on and off, since 1981, leads to me to admit that overall Vancouver culture does not center these values, so it feels lucky, and a breath of fresh air, when you come across a genuine third place.

More to research:

  • Why some countries rate highest in overall happiness?
  • How, or can, intentional living contribute to a stronger sense of community/well-being?