The Third Place
The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.
Oldenburg calls one’s “first place” the home and those that one lives with. The “second place” is the workplace — where people may actually spend most of their time.
Third places, then, are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction. All societies already have informal meeting places; what is new in modern times is the intentionality of seeking them out as vital to current societal needs.
Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true “third place”: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.
"You cannot create a place like this, it just sorta of happens.” This is how Vic Herman describes Horizon Books in Traverse City, Michigan, when he is asked about the third place aspects of his bookstore. He makes it seem as though this downtown Front Street venue has somehow evolved accidentally into the popular cross-generational gathering place it has become.
To visit and get to know the store is to discover that this may not be entirely true. In fact, the bright and intensely private Vic Herman is the primary force behind this wonderful public gathering place. Horizon Books has been a downtown focal point and anchor store in Traverse City for nearly forty years. Now, it has two satellite stores in the nearby communities of Cadillac and Petoskey.
(The company was featured in the March/April 1999 issue of Independent Publisher in an article titled: “Horizon Books, Striving to be “The Third Place.”) Even though the company has grown and succeeded in the face of changing demographics and retail competition from the large chains, it has continued its success and retained a family feeling of a retailer uniquely dedicated to serving the community.
“Our store has always been devoted to this idea of community,” explains Herman. Horizon Books is much more than a bookstore. When you walk through their door, you are likely to see one of the groups that use the facility. Reading discussion groups, writing groups, children’s story hour groups, Toastmasters, and others regularly meet in the hundred-seat Horizon Shine Cafe (Now CuppaJope at Horizon) at no charge.
You may hear poetry, music, or a speaker as you walk through the aisles of well-chosen titles; or see friends using the store as a meeting spot. One unique recent event was a bridal shower, where the friends of the book-loving bride-to-be used the store as both a shopping venue and a unique location for her celebration.
Since Traverse City is a tourist destination on the shores of Lake Michigan visitors from outside area regularly visit the store. Many of the visitors have expressed the feeling of “humanness” they experience. They fondly describe the staff and customer-to-customer contact and interaction they would visit the store. One visitor told us that a visit to Traverse City would not be complete without a stop at Horizon Books.
“The entire experience is quite friendly and unlike anything else we find in the city.”