Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The College and the Coffee Shop

The New York Times has a story dear to my heart: "Rural Colleges Seek New Edge and Urbanize." They tell of rural colleges and universities adding urban amenities, including denser adjacent housing. Their aim is not just to serve students, but to turn the college town into "a small city in the country that is not reserved for only the young." Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, a partner in Centre's consortium, is featured. When I visited Hendrix I found the coffee house on the edge of campus. It is a fine one, but at that time it was the only thing like it anywhere near campus.

Danville, Kentucky, where I live, is a wonderful Norman Rockwellesque small town with a fine little college in it. It does not think of itself, though, as a college town. Town/gown relations have long been friendly and respectful, but not, I would say, intimate. The college had its life and amenities, and the town had a different set. Lately, though, the two have been moving together, in just the way envisioned in this article. The college moved its bookstore into an empty downtown department store. The college worked together with a local entrepreneur to build a new coffee house attached to the bookstore. This coffee house, the Hub, is named for the old department store. I spend hours in the Hub each day. I hold office hours there, and talk to students, colleagues, and friends and neighbors from town.

When my wife sent me this article, she entitled her message "Read it. Read it now." The dessert, she promised, is at the end. And indeed it was. The article ends with John Fry, president of Franklin & Marshall in lovely Lancaster, PA, describing the serendipitous ideal of liberal arts college life in the new kind of college town: “You’re in the coffee shop on a Saturday morning sipping a cup of coffee and you run into a professor, and two hours later you’ve had one of those transformative moments.”

Amen.

4 comments:

Katie said...

I'm so excited to post now that I am finally out of China and able to access your site! I do know of a coffee house affliated with Youth For Christ in Alplaus, NY called Samuel's. It's extremely family-oriented and dedicated volunteers are often on hand to talk about God or just help clean up. The atmosphere doesn't necessarily feel conservative, but it does have a different vibe than other coffee houses.

Katie said...

Oops--posted that last one in the wrong place. Sorry about that!

Gruntled said...

I followed the thread of connection.
Second question: Does Samuel's make money? Is it self-supporting? Or is it a ministry subsidized by Republican parents to give their kids a wholesome alternative to delinquency, though the parents don't frequent such a place themselves? There is nothing bad about such a ministry, but it doesn't entirely settle the question of what kind of third places Republican adults would choose to go to.

Katie said...

I had to call Ryan's mom to get your answers. Here's the scoop:

Samuel's has been open less than a year. It's not quite in the black yet, but the owners are hopeful that it will be soon.

It is a ministry of Youth for Christ. However, they have been marketing to adults (with the thought that teenagers don't want to hang out at a place that's for kids). As a result of marketing to adults, they get a broad age range of customers.

Teenagers tend to dominate after school and on weekends. But, during the day, adults gather for bible studies, moms groups, and regular coffee consumption. There is also a Airforce base nearby, and many of the soldiers stop by hang out.

I think Samuel's comes closer to a Republican third place than any I have heard of so far.