The last newsletter introduced us to the good that comes from planning (and growing) towns and cities at a human scale. Towns thus planned allowed neighborhood businesses to flourish. Barber shops, mercantiles, restaurants, bars, doctors…all these small businesses, vital to the health and well-being of citizens were also vital to the life of the town itself. That last point bears repeating: Towns have a life. People and their flow into, within, and out of local businesses and institutions are the lifeblood of towns.
While the rise of a culture centered on the automobile and the movement of businesses to shopping centers and malls largely sucked the life blood out of American mainstreets in post-WWII America, the attempts to revitalize the sense of community and reclaim the self-sufficiency of of those towns has existed for almost as long.
One business well suited to brewing the kind of interactions which bring life to towns are local coffee shops. Along with micro-breweries, local coffee shops are as much gathering spaces as they are purveyors of gastronomic wares. In the parlance of urban/town planning, such business provide “Third Spaces.” Neither home nor work, they are vitally interstitial, providing areas for respite, sustenance, and social interaction–key characteristics for thriving communities.
When a town has one or more of these businesses operating at a profit, the buzz of life they raise for the community is, simply put, “A Good Thing.” In my own town of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, our homegrown coffee shop “Backyard Beans” is a great example.
Founded by Matt and Laura Adams in the backyard of their Lansdale twin, Backyard Beans has helped revitalize the mainstreet of Lansdale as well as that of Ambler, a sister town a few miles to the east. Backyard Beans’ original configuration included a small cafe in the front and a roastery in the back room, visible through large glass windows behind the counter. But the quality of their product and their commitment to the community and their role in its revitalization quickly forced them to expand the shop.
The Roastery is now offsite, a few miles away, but still in Lansdale. More seating and work spaces fill the old roastery room. They also added a kitchen that makes breakfast and lunch sandwiches from scratch, and just this year, they have started a bakery onsite producing sourdough based pastries as well as other baked goods.
Owners Matt and Laura Adams understand that there is far more to running a business in a town like Lansdale than making a profit. Their commitment to the community resides in their name–“Backyard Beans” being a reference to the place (their backyard in Lansdale) where they first started roasting their own beans.
But their commitment is found in more than their nomenclature. They are committed to playing a large role in revitalizing Lansdale’s mainstreet. And so, not only do they make good coffee and serve good food, they are doing good things, too. From “Make a difference Mondays, to creating work for local residents, to online fundraisers and goods donations, Backyard Beans has devoted itself to doing good in the community.
Of course, they are not alone in this philanthropy. Most all small businesses in small-town America recognize the debt they owe their locales. But Backyard Beans’ fits that “third space” niche I write about above that makes the town alive. Many in Lansdale and beyond have made Backyard Beans a home-away-from-home. Businesspeople can find space and time to work, college students have ample area to study in groups, and neighbors and families visit regularly to spend time catching up with each other.
I know that Backyard Beans is not unusual in the role they play. All towns that are undergoing revitalization have created the economic opportunities for businesses like Backyard Beans to flourish. What is unusual is the dedication and focus Matt and Laura Adams have to the quality of their product. In 2018 they were named one of the two best coffee shops in Pennsylvania by Food and Wine magazine, and their coffees are served in restaurants across the region.
With such a dedication to quality in the food they make and the coffee they roast, and a focus on building stronger communities, Backyard Beans is the definition of a small (but growing), good thing.