Sunday, May 27, 2007

Espresso Culture in Beaver County

When many folks think of espresso, the first thing that comes to mind may be the sterilized, middle-class, faux third place atmosphere of a St*rbucks or just a bunch of snarky, "artist-types"--either behind the bar or at the tables--who may talk a big game about their own liberally-minded activities, but are really just the same ol' stereotypical Seattle yuppies that have, effectively, defined espresso culture in America. That is why, reading Seth Godin's blog recently, I began to ponder comments made to me about my work here in Beaver Falls, Beaver County, PA. Seth says:

Craig writes in with a story about a Dyson vacuum:

I have a question for you about buying decisions.

A while back I upgraded my Dyson vacuum cleaner when I got a great deal on the latest model. I had been using my old one for about 5 years or so but it was still in perfect working order. I had even replaced a couple of attachments for it via the Dyson website.
I gave my old Dyson to a friend. She had never used a Dyson before and she loved it. So much so that the very next day her own vacuum cleaner was put outside ready for the refuge collection!

But here’s the thing: a few months later the Dyson I gave her stopped working (not sure why, that thing was indestructible) so she decided to buy a new vacuum. Even though the vacuum I gave her was the best she had ever used, she didn’t buy a Dyson.

I was amazed how someone could love a product so much but replace it with an inferior product. I don’t think it was about cost because I told her where she could get an excellent deal on a new Dyson.

This just doesn’t make sense to me so I thought I’d ask if you had any thoughts as to why this happens?

My take: Craig’s friend didn’t see herself as the kind of person who would buy a Dyson. Sure, she might use one, especially if it was free. But buying a weird, fancy-looking vacuum is an act of self-expression as much as it’s a way to clean your floors. And the act of buying one didn’t match the way his friend saw herself.

So many of the products and services we use are now about our identity. Many small businesses, for example, won’t hire a coach or a consultant because, “that’s not the kind of organization we are.” Wineries understand that the pricing of a bottle of wine is more important than its label or the wine inside. The price is the first thing that most people consider when they order or shop for wine. Not because of perceived value, but because of identity.

Other than the fact that I've had nasty experiences with Dyson (never, ever buy their handheld vacuum), the post intrigues me. Many folks that I've talked to, both from and outside of the area, are always surprised by the presence of a coffeeshop in Beaver Falls (except, they say, because of the college). Things such as "The people there wouldn't care about espresso, just a cup of coffee" or "You're going to have a hard time talking people there into caring about quality". Maybe these things are true, but I don't think so in the end. Yes, Beaver County, and especially Beaver Falls, are blue-collar places. However, that is exactly the sort of fertile soil that an artisan-based culture can thrive in, along with a vibrant, re-thought espresso culture.

First, some un-education:

1) Espresso is not synonymous with yuppies or the consumerist culture. Espresso originated in Italy, where many folks in Beaver County can, with great joy, trace their roots. Espresso in Italy is associated not with the up-and-up, but with everyday life, whether you are a baker, a factory-worker, or a cubicle-dweller. Espresso, instead of being a symbol of the bourgeois, is a symbol of the varied and diverse sorts of people that make up every place.

2) Coffeeshops are not synonymous with those either. A coffeeshop, if being true to its historical roots, is a leveler--and has been persecuted throughout history as being too "democratic". Coffeeshops are places of relaxation, debate, bravado, humility, and artistry. Coffeeshops are places of humanity. And they smell great too.

With that in mind, it is easy for me to see why espresso culture, rightly conceived, can be so successful in this place. We want to be a welcoming, hospitable place where collegiate, businesser, laborer, home-maker, retired, and young can meet, mingle, and become a strong, democratic local community. All of the problems that people see within Beaver County, could be addressed by that sort of community. But this is another topic for another day.

A place with the mindset of hard work, thrift, and a history of (somewhat suppressed) artisanry is ripe for a full-orbed, healthy espresso culture. A culture that encourages hard work, thrift, quality, humanness, scale, and community. I'll drink to that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Uneducation #3 for Beaver County:
It is not an "expresso".