Neighborhoods and communities need places for people to get together and socialize. Some such places are public social spaces, areas owned by public institutions; others referred to as private social spaces where individuals or business owners own the location. Bar and restaurants are the typical spaces when I think of social spaces on Water Street. Numerous places on Water Street provide food and drink while giving the opportunity for conversation and social gatherings. These would include Don Jose’s Mexican restaurant at the east end of Water St. with the Courtyard and Cellar adjoining to the Old Armory BBQ on the west end. Somewhat reminiscent of the old English pub where you can get good food and drink would be the bar at Rubaiyat as well as the Restauration Lounge at the Hotel Winneshiek. And T-Bocks a sports bar needs a special mention as they have two additional floors where people meet to conduct business or entertainment.
And of course, there are the coffee shops, can you imagine that in this small town we have a choice of three! Java Johns, Magpie, and the most recent addition Impact Coffee just off Water on Washington Street. In addition, there have been several wonderful additions to social spaces developed in businesses on Water Street. While I may overlook some, there are four in particular that I would like to highlight here, Java Johns, the Blue Heron Knittery, Dragonfly Books, and the Oneota Co-op.
Starting with Dragonfly, the owner Kate has an assistant Kate (I refer to her as Kate II) who schedules events at the bookstore. I’ve worked with both Kates setting up events and special ordering books and so forth. There are book readings by both local and national authors several times a month and story time for kids every Saturday. It brings people together who would probably not be together in many other venues. We need more spaces in our world where that can happen. Kate is the proud owner of her independent book store and the building where the store is housed. A great investment in our community.
And the Blue Heron Knittery, just down the street has space where you can sit and knit anytime. Just walk in, sit down on a soft chair, pull out your current project and knit away. In case you need tips on the difficulties you get into like dropping a stitch or whether to knit or purl Sarah the owner, or one of her helpful staff, will be there to assist. And there are classes for all kinds of projects including for beginning knitters. And a knitting group for men that meets on the second Saturday morning of the month, no charge!
The Oneota Food Coop, several doors down from the Blue Heron, is more than a grocery store. They serve a very good cup of coffee and great organic food prepared from their own merchandise in their kitchen. The soup is always good and the paninis are the best! Lots of people congregate there, all ages from students in middle school to elders’ coffee klatches. And Sunday morning brunch is typically busy, for good reason. Jan and I often go there for Sunday brunch and typically meet up with acquaintances who just happen to be in the same space.
Besides there is the Coop Kitchen Classroom where classes are taught on subjects from Introduction to Sourdough to Vinho Verde and Tapas to a series on Sustainability for Kids that meets after school. Lots of different ways to get together, learn new things, socialize and interact in a public space.
And then there is Water Street Park just east of the Coop, truly a public social space owned by the city. It creates an outdoor space for eating any day you wish to brave the elements and a great venue for entertainment. In addition, the Scarves in the Park project where you can trade scarves, mittens, and hats operates during the winter months.
Finally, across the street is Java Johns started by Mary Klimesh and named in honor of her husband John. JJ’s has developed a reputation for the place to get together to talk about community events formally and informally. Musical entertainment occurs several nights of the week, local and regional artists display their work and host receptions. I’ve been part of hosting a “book viewing” reception for a local author of a college math text there. (We didn’t call it a book reading or book signing as sales were not expected!)
Apologies to those I missed along Water where people gather in storefronts and visit with each other, conduct business, are entertained, and contribute to the fabric and vibrancy of community life in our town. From my view point, the ones mentioned are exemplary in creating community and have a business model that incorporates more than just sales of merchandise. You can find real value here.