Can Retail Space be an Extension of the Public Realm? A Look at Seattle’s Third Place Books


+ info: Project for Public Spaces

For sociologist Ray Oldenburg, each of us needs three places: the home, the workplace or school, and beyond that, a third place – a public space on neutral ground where people can gather and interact while experiencing a sense of ease and belonging. In his book The Great Good Place (1991), Oldenburg demonstrates how and why these places are essential to community and public life, arguing that bars, cafés, general stores, and other “third places” are central to local democracy and community vitality.

Seattle’s Third Place Books was named after Oldenburg’s idea, and the bookstore’s success shows that when retailers put communities first, they can thrive in both good economic times and bad. In both of its locations – Lake Forest Park and Ravenna – Third Place Books incorporates the best elements of the surrounding neighborhood into its design and business model. Along with piles of books, the stores also contain cafés, restaurants, and taverns that attract users of all ages, interests, and backgrounds. The common areas host community programs such as college jazz concerts, game nights, knitting clubs, farmers markets, story hours, and tai chi lessons, while meeting rooms in the back offer gathering spaces for more private activities like study and support groups, or foreign language and computer lessons.