What is your third place?


An interesting article in a recent issue of The Economist concerned the notion of the third place, Ray Oldenburg's term to describe where people gather and spend their time when not at home or work (and no, the interstate doesn't count). The usual example cited is the coffee shop on "Friends". As I read it, I was struck by how this question factors into the soon-to-be-retired boomer generation. After we retire, where will we spend our hours? Not many people will be content sitting at home, and hanging out in the neighborhood bar can be expensive and hard on the liver.

Certainly, Starbucks and the like must be drooling over the prospects of mid-day traffic. While many are already inhabited by we Bedouins, each with our laptop, headphones and lattes pecking away like chickens in a barnyard, this isn't really what the third place is about. The third place is a place for socialization. It should also have a very modest cost to access, which coffee shops deliver.

Some would point to churches as logical gathering spots, but I'm not so sure. There is an underlying agenda to most church gatherings, and many are more busy during the weekday, with preschools, worship, and meetings, than on Sundays. Parks are weather-dependent, gyms on the expensive side and not always set up for sitting comfort. Senior centers, while excellent, are too few and far between in most areas to serve the burgeoning population.

I perceive an opportunity here for the savvy entrepreneur. Oldenberg describes a third place as somewhere within walking distance, with a set of regulars but open to new members. I envision something along the lines of the old English clubs (but open to all), in which dues-paying members fund a center where they could drink coffee, shoot the breeze, read the paper, play cards, or nap as the spirit moved them. We certainly have enough empty storefronts available in this country to house thousands of clubs.

Anybody know of such a place? Have an idea of how the financials work? The opportunity is very enticing.