Coffeehouses and the art of social engagement: an analysis of portland coffeehouses

from Health Economics at on June 29, 2017 at 01:25AM


Coffeehouses have been a part of America’s cultural landscape since the seventeenth century. Their fortunes have risen and fallen with the changing demand for coffee and consumer preferences. This paper examines their historic function of promoting social engagement as so-called third places among independently owned coffeehouses in the city of Portland, Oregon. Individual coffeehouses were evaluated on the extent to which they provided a supportive physical environment for social engagement in which a space is transformed into a place, and detailed patron behavior was recorded over a three-week period. Few coffeehouses provided a supportive physical environment. The majority of coffeehouse patrons during the weekday and weekend ordered drinks ‘to go.’ Among those who stayed during the weekday most sat alone and worked. Coffeehouse are spaces to ‘be alone together.’ It was only on lunchtime weekends that coffeehouses were full of the sound of conversations. Further study should consider the effect of eliminating free Wi Fi and banning laptops on social engagement and whether other place attributes need to be incorporated to promote social engagement.

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