When we opened The Commonspace our goal was to provide a place for all sorts of different people to get together and build community. The amazing thing is, it's actually working.
I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. For one thing, we have the perfect location for this sort of endeavor. The Commonspace is at the center of everything. We're where North City meets South City, surrounded by cultural institutions, arts organizations, schools, churches, homeless shelters and the city health department. We attract SLU students, actors, roadies, ladies who lunch, tenants who live upstairs, artists, Fox and Symphony patrons, bus riders, musicians, activists and others in the Grand Center cast of characters. Our visitors come in all colors and ages.
In our quest to give people a place to do the thing they love, we've hosted a wide range of events, including art openings, knitting classes, breakdancing exhibitions, movie screenings, LAN parties, children's reading hours, Linux InstallFests, plays, concerts, poetry readings and book signings. Along the way, we've become a home for fledgling theater groups, a new social justice book club and Go players in the city.
Diversity and creativity are a potent combination for bringing people together. Every once in a while, I look around the room at The Commonspace and feel giddy as I catch a glimpse of what a St. Louis with fewer divisions would look like. These magical moments of unplanned interaction are what our public living room is all about.
Other people are picking up on the vibe, too. One of the first to feel it was Romeo Love. He burst through the door one day before we were even open, when the place still looked like a hurriedly vacated, water-damaged Crown Optical store (which it was). He threw his cigarette on the ground and exclaimed, "Damn, man! What took you so long?" At the time, I was waiting for a city inspector to arrive. I thought this was an odd way for an inspector to behave and was trying to come up with a nice way to explain that I had been waiting all day and was very sorry if I'd missed him earlier, but before I could say anything, he continued with, "We need a place like this in St. Louis." When he told me his name was Romeo Love and he lived upstairs, I knew we were onto something special.
More recently, the following back-to-back entries appeared in the People's Journal at The Commonspace:
August Twenty Ninth, Two thousand and three .....
My name is Brent and I'm a 19 year old from Bangor, Maine. A couple months ago I was bored with my situation so I quit my job, left my apartment, bought a van, and hit the road. I got into St. Louis a couple days ago, and stumbled upon this place while I was looking for the Contemporary Art Museum. Through my experiences so far, I've really learned the value of a place (like this) that I can go to read, talk with friendly people, or just hang out, and NOT feel pressured to have to spend or consume to justify my presence. How many shops/restaurants/cafés can you actually go to and just hang out, without getting weird looks or being asked to leave? Thanks to The Commonspace / People's Coffee for making a stranger to the city feel a little more .... Welcomed. The booksharing project, the free literature/pamphlets, and the events you host are great! Keep it up! Catch you later St. Louis! Oh yeah, pick up a copy of "Days of War, Nights of Love" by the people at CrimethInc. Great book!
One of the things I love most about traveling to brand new places, whether for work or a personal quest, is seeking out places where it's easy to fall into intelligent or at least interesting! conversations. Hostels are a good bet, as are city walking tours, but then, just waiting for a bus offers opportunities. Bookstores ... well, hit or miss, as are bars. The Commonspace and People's Coffee remind me of that certain atmosphere of open exchange all the most fruitful places have had in other cities. Which the traveler in the entry before this discovered too!
Brent, if you're out there, thank you. There's a guy named Romeo that I'd like you to meet the next time you're in town ...