How Local Businesses can Become (Economically Resilient) Gathering Places


Want to better your community but don’t know where to start? Enter It’s the Little Things: a weekly Strong Towns podcast that gives you the wisdom and encouragement you need to take the small yet powerful actions that can make your city or town stronger.

It’s the Little Things features Strong Towns Community Builder Jacob Moses in conversation with various guests who have taken action in their own places and in their own ways.

Outside of your home or office, you likely have a favorite place in your community where you gather and socialize with your friends. It could be a local coffee shop in your downtown, where you discuss the candidates running for council in your district. Or it could be the local pub, where you discuss—oh, you know—the cost of infrastructure and how your town struggles to pay for maintenance.

These are called third places. A third place, as defined by The Art of Charm, is a welcoming space—outside of your home or office—that cultivates essential social experiences in the company of like-minded people.

As a customer, you’ve likely experienced the benefit of having a third place—getting the update on happenings in your community or unpacking that neighborhood-boosting idea you have among neighbors. Or, as a business owner, you’ve witnessed the sense of community your establishment offers.

But here’s the best part: third places make your community richer socially, of course; however, they also make your community more economically resilient by taking an incremental approach to development, becoming ultra-community-responsive, and constantly making small bets.

My colleague, former bookseller at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, and guest in this episode, Kea Wilson, recently wrote about this subject in her must-read Strong Towns piece How a Local Bookstore Can Make Your Town Richer—In More Than One Way. Her message is a timely reminder for everyone, including patrons, local business owners, and elected officials: “What cities would be wise to do, I think, is to recognize the powerful neighborhood-wide effect of the independent bookstore model, and soften the ground for more small businesses operating, by their nature, on small margins and small bets.”

This is a model that creates a third place environment for the neighbors while adapting to the neighborhood’s needs.

In this episode, Kea shares the lessons she learned about making a local business a third place, including what building a third place actually looks like, how third places are more economically resilient, and—most important—how you can make your local business a third place.

Top photo via Pexels