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The Social Transformation of Coffee Houses: The Emergence of Chain Establishments and the Private Nature of Usage


  • Rachael A. Woldoff
  • Dawn Marie Lozzi
  • Lisa M. Dilks


Ray Oldenburg (1989) developed the concept of third places as environments that offer friendship and a sense of community. However, the idealized image of the coffee house may need revision. In recent decades coffee houses have transformed from small-scale businesses to corporate-owned franchises, and with the advent of personal electronic devices many people now use them to work rather than to socialize. Using unobtrusive observation data from three independently-owned and three chain-based coffee houses in the Boston area, this research examines the ways in which modern coffee houses live up to or defy Oldenburg¡¯s social expectations of a third place. Two key findings reveal that: 1) people increasingly use coffee houses as both a social sphere and a private zone to work, read, and use electronic devices; and 2) chain coffee houses, though often criticized for their sanitized lack of character, may better meet customers¡¯ new third place needs by providing a wider variety of amenities (e.g., types of seating, food, and media) and free services that are in high demand (e.g., Wi-Fi).

Suggested Citation

  • Rachael A. Woldoff & Dawn Marie Lozzi & Lisa M. Dilks, 2013. "The Social Transformation of Coffee Houses: The Emergence of Chain Establishments and the Private Nature of Usage," International Journal of Social Science Studies, Redfame publishing, vol. 1(2), pages 205-218, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:rfa:journl:v:1:y:2013:i:2:p:205-218

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    third place; urban spaces; public spaces; coffee house; caf¨¦; neighborhoods;

    JEL classification:

    • R00 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General - - - General
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General


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