Eric Harrington – The power of The Connection
This morning I went to my local coffee shop (not so coincidentally called the “Coffee Connection”) to get my daily dose of caffeine and conversation. I think the topic at the counter today was how Styrofoam cups can now be recycled and how it always felt so wrong to just throw that stuff in the garbage — but I digress.
So as I walked out to my car with my coffee-caddy and local newspaper, I ran into a rather testy neighbor leaving the small store next door who looked at my coffee and remarked “what a waste of money!” I asked him what he meant and he replied “why spend $3.00 on a cup of coffee when you can brew a pot of it at home for 50 cents?” My first thought was I wish I could get my double half-caf, half-pump mocha with whip cream for $3.00, but then I took a moment and pondered his question. Why do I spend so much on a cup of coffee? So without really thinking I replied “because I can’t make espresso at home and… uh… I like to get out” With this he mumbled back “it’s just a waste if you ask me,” and he walked to his 80’s Dodge Ram pickup truck and drove off without so much as a sideways glance.
But as I stood there, I couldn’t help thinking about his question. Why do I spend hundreds of dollars a year for something I could make for pennies at home? And then it occurred to me… it’s the connection. In coming to the coffee shop, I meet new people in my community each day and connect, interact, socialize. In a modern society that continues to “connect” people on-line, while simultaneously separating them physically, it is a brief and rich moment of real flesh-and-blood personal interaction. I walked back inside to consider this further.
There on the bulletin board are flyers of local events, entertainment, causes. On the walls are works of art by local artists, and pictures of the owner’s family and travels. And scattered about are a menagerie of people surfing, chatting, and reading — apart but together. It is the modern tribal gathering, a post industrial pow-wow, and it touches a very deep primal need in the human pack. It is the country feed-store, the corner saloon, the town market; it is the pulse-point of the community.
And what about all that money spent on the simple cup of coffee? What really happens to it? Most of that $4.50 I give them for my Mocha pays the baristas, who then spend it at the local produce store on their groceries. It pays the owner who then uses it to pay the AC man to fix the air-conditioner. The AC man gives it to his daughter, who then spends it — yep you guessed it — at the coffee-shop..
You see, that money spent in my little local shop doesn’t just stop there, in reality it circulates around like one of those heart-warming viral emails, touching countless people and enriching lives a little bit in every step. The power of your dollars spent locally is exponential because of this circulation. By contrast, spend it at the Wal-Mart, and a portion stays here in the form of salaries and rent, but the bulk of it jumps on a plane and flies to some big office-building in the Midwest, and then hops a 1st class connection to places all over the world; to stock-holders and speculators, lobbyists and hedge funds, not to mention the Chinese manufacturers. But it’s long-gone from our lives forever.
So in that moment I realized that is why I go to my local coffee-shop– because I want to support that interaction, that place of community, that connection. And I want to give my town that money, instead of spreading it all over the world. And I also realized that I would gladly pay a couple dollars a day for nothing, just to keep that charming little “connection” place right where it is and thriving.
For me, $4.50 is cheap for all that…