We don't quite know what to do with ourselves on Friday nights. Our favorite locally owned restaurant has closed - "lost their lease" to make room for a parking lot. OMG, when I read the Facebook announcement, I felt as though I were punched in the gut. How many places do you go where an expressed goal is to 'treat you like family?' Amano Bistro was one - established in 2004 by Eric and Kathy Bower at 16th Street/Baseline in south Phoenix - their vision and philosophy:
Jonny and I found Amano's when we moved in 2008, we were eager to find a locally owned place with good food, you know, a non-chain place to hang out. After a time we moved from sitting at tables to hanging out at the bar where it was even more relaxing and fun. At the end of a long work week, physically tired, maybe tired of it (work, people, responsibility, an endless list) - we would often say, let's go to Amano's for pizza, salad, and vino. Sitting at the bar, we would eavesdrop, observe, hang out, listen to music, talk about food, travel, work, life, cool stuff, stupid stuff....oh yea, and eat good food. It really didn't matter what the food was. Food was secondary to hanging out in a welcoming place, seeing people we liked, and sharing in one another's lives. Somehow a night at Amano's enabled us to transcend the week and fatigue associated with it. Amano's departure and our sense of grief is about a loss of community and connection. Oldenburg's concept of Third Places offers an explanation why.
Ray Oldenburg is an urban sociologist who contrasted home and work places with what he called “third places” which essentially serve the community, are inclusive, and local (2001, pp. ix, 21). A popularized Third Place was the Cheers bar depicted in the show by the same name. Third places are purposeful in the way they bring people from disparate backgrounds together. “When the good citizens of a community find places to spend pleasurable hours with one another for no specific or obvious purpose. . . there is purpose” (Oldenburg, 2001, p. ix). The social aspects of informal public gathering spaces are purposeful and meaningful in and of themselves. Third places contribute a space for exploration and in doing so provide meaning, contribute to a sense of belonging, and provide a release from daily responsibilities. Characteristics of third places include:
Hospitable, inclusive, and diverse. Anyone can come, participate, and join in. Third places offer a cross-section of diverse people with potentially differing backgrounds, ages, concerns, etc. Oldenburg (2001) described this inclusivity in terms of being a “leveler” because people are able to transcend their social roles and are generally accepted for themselves (pp. 24, 25).
Neutralilty. The Third Space is the host, all other participants are guests (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 22). This distinction is significant with regard to social norms, expectations, and a sense of welcome experienced by those who enter.
Social Norms. Regulars, those who seem to know everybody, help to assimilate newcomers to the place including expectations, behavioral rules, andetiquette. Some of this may happen overtly - grab your menu there or through observation - watching how people move within a space to see what they do. In this sense, third places serve to unite a diverse set of people and coordinate their actions within a place.
Friendship and Camaraderie. People come to third places because they want to, a context where the “fundamental motivation is neither personal advantage or civic duty” (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 26). Camaraderie is the goal and conversation is the main activity.
Perspective. Third places provide a home away from home, a place of experienced connectedness thus contributing to a sense of rootedness and belonging (Oldenburg, 2001, pp. 39, 40, 50-52).
Play and Laughter. A lack of scheduling, freedom from responsibility, and independence from the daily routine are all found in a third place thereby providing a place to hang out and simply be (Oldenburg, 2001, pp. 37, 45-48).
Spiritual Tonic. Participation in a third place (not home or work) serves to raise one’s spirits, make a person’s day, provides a release from duty and responsibility, and a breaking of monotony (Oldenburg, 2001, p. 55-58).
Oldenburg noted, “Nothing contributes to one’s sense of belonging to a community as much as ‘membership’ in a third place” (p. xxiii).
Oldenburg, R. (1999). The great good place: Cafés, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of a community. New York: Marlowe.
Upon arrival at Amano Bistro, people said hello, gave hugs, asked how you were, and shared a laugh. This place oozed welcome and hospitality. It was a a place where you could slough off your many roles and just be. It truly was a Third Place in the sense that Oldenburg described. Within a space decorated with local artist's works: ready banter, a steady stream of regulars, chocolate pot de creme, and Eric's caramels further characterized our experiences. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, shared meals with visiting friends and family, and truly looked forward to being there.
Now it is gone and there is a vacuum in South Phoenix where chain restaurants tend to be the norm. I know, I know - our economic and land ownership sensibilities often indicate that profit and land ownership can (should?) dictate the terms related to our decision making related to land use. So it is that the owner of this property elected to turn the lot into a parking lot choosing not to renew Amano's lease. I guess on solely economic terms perhaps this was a more financially viable option. However, this decision has high social, cultural, and human costs in terms of community, relationships, and connections. See, Amano's wasn't solely about transactional or functional eating - there's plenty of that to be had at McDonalds, Applebees or a plethora of other chain restaurants at 24th/Baseline. Amano's was about friendship, family, relationship and community. No parking lot regardless of the revenue generated can even come close to the relational toll this decision has enacted on our community.
So it is that we are filled with glorious memories and sad, grieving and experiencing a sense of loss. Thank you Eric and Kathy for your vision and commitment to neighborhood and community - sharing food together was a wonderful experience contributory to our collective sense of purpose, meaning, and sense of connection to place. Bless you in your future and all you do!