Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

A Third Place Reduced to Second

Dateline: 2:41 pm October 20, 2007 Filed under:

Due to a recent tussle with the city of Minneapolis, Tillie’s Bean, my local coffeeshop no longer offers live music at night, and consequently is starting to close earlier on weekends. This is unfortunate for music performers and the neighborhood in general, as it takes away evening activity and “eyes on the street” along 38th Street, and also takes away a critical element of a valued “third place” in our neighborhood.

The city requires an annual $400 licensing fee for venues that offer live entertainment. This may seem like chump change, but for a coffeehouse with small capacity that has to make due on selling $2 coffees, even the best entertainers don’t lead to much revenue. Compared to bars that can bring in more people and charge $5-plus for drinks, it is tough to compete. Maggie Turner, the owner of Tillie’s Bean, who has been offering live entertainment for three years without knowing she was not in compliance with city code, cannot justify the $400 per year charge. And she certainly doesn’t make enough revenue on weekend evenings to bother staying open.

This comes at a particularly odd time for the city, which is trying to encourage more vitality of their commercial streets. My own neighborhood group just completed a proposal to receive grant money to improve the 38th Street district, of which Tillie’s is the anchor business. How unfortunate that the city is in some ways canceling out the benefits of their grant program because of their entertainment license fee. The city needs to be, in action and in word, encouraging rather than deterring businesses like Tillie’s to thrive.

Tillie’s is a classic example of a third place – an alternative to home and work where people gather, share, converse and live their lives. Third places take many forms, but coffeehouses are among the most vital to urban areas. Without Tillie’s, this portion of 38th Street lacks a critical third place. Closing early on weekends doesn’t mean Tillie’s is going away, but I think my neighbors would agree with me that we’d rather see local businesses expanding their hours of operation. Waiving the entertainment fee for coffeehouses would be a prudent move for Minneapolis if they truly want more vibrant commercial districts. Cities need to consider the needs of small business proprietors if that is what they want to thrive.

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