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North American independent coffeehouse culture: a comparison of Seattle with Vancouver

  • Michael J. BroadwayEmail author
  • Robert Legg
  • Teresa Bertossi


Phenomenologists argue that place is central to human existence and that much of human behavior is habitual. A person who regularly visits a coffeehouse is likely to meet others engaged in a similar routine, over time they feel at ease and develop a sense of attachment to the space; a so-called third place—where people meet and engage in conversation. Since the early 1980s, the number of coffeehouses in North America has soared, but despite their ubiquity researchers have largely ignored whether they are third spaces. In the United States, critics charge that they have become places to be alone together, while in Canada, some research indicates that face-to-face conversation still flourishes in independent coffeehouses. This paper attempts to reconcile these competing perspectives by examining 30 coffeehouses in two neighborhoods in Seattle and Vancouver. Since design can affect social interaction, the coffeehouses are assessed on their spatial structure, how patrons use that space and how that space is assessed on social media. No difference was found between the coffeehouses in terms of their locational characteristics and how their physical environment was structured. However, a statistically significant difference was found in patron behavior. A majority of Vancouver customers engaged in face-to-face conversation, while Seattle patrons preferred to sit alone. Finally, Seattleite patrons were more likely to emphasize a coffeehouse’s workplace function in their online reviews than their Vancouver counterparts. In sum, despite the two cities close proximity there appears to be a difference between their residents in how they perceive coffeehouses, a workspace versus a social space.


Coffeehouse Vancouver Seattle Third place Culture Coffee 



A Northern Michigan University, Faculty Research Grant, supported this research. The authors sincerely thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved this work.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The research was approved by Northern Michigan University’s Faculty Research Grant’s committee and deemed not to require the approval of University’s IRB committee.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical SciencesNorthern Michigan UniversityMarquetteUSA

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