One of the earliest ideas I wanted to write about related to coffee shops was the different roles they played in everyday lives. This was the focus of one of my earlier projects, and finally we have an article published on the topic in the journal Geoforum: Spaces of consumption, connection and community: exploring the role of the coffee shop in urban lives.
The research for this article, and indeed the writing of the article itself, was completed long before the covid-19 pandemic had begun. There is much more to write about how the pandemic has affected the coffee shop industry, with current restrictions in the UK only allowing for takeaway business, and the ‘stay at home’ guidance meaning that the number of people visiting coffee shops is only a small fraction of what it was this time a year ago.
The article explores how coffee shops have the potential to play various roles in urban spaces, how they can facilitate connections, foster community development and enrichment, through business and consumer activity.
Coffee shops have been described as ‘third places’ in urban lives separate from the work and home, providing places for people to meet, relax and develop connections. However, the growing presence of coffee shops in the urban landscape has meant that they increasingly take on a wider range of roles, becoming spaces of both leisure and work but also providing spaces of sociality in which people can develop connections, and potentially communities. The roles of coffee shops in five cities in England are explored in order to consider how they can be understood not only as spaces of consumption, but spaces which facilitate connection in increasingly isolated urban lives, and generate the potential for communities to develop. By understanding the varied ways in which businesses and consumers co-create these spaces, it may be possible to increase their potential as ‘spaces of community’.
When the first covid-19 lockdown restrictions were lifted last summer, people did start to go back to visiting coffee shops, although to previous levels, and given the ongoing situation it is likely to be a while before the kinds of interactions discussed in this article will be commonplace again. That said, in my current research project about coffee shops and consumption during the covid-19 pandemic many participants talk about the desire to go back to meeting friends in coffee shops, to go back to a similar routine they had before. It is likely we will see changes in the coffee shop industry, perhaps there will no longer be as many, perhaps we will start to see more in residential locations.
The newly published article reveals a glimmer of what coffee shops can be, and it is my hope that they are able to return to many of these roles in the future.