The Round House Cafe closed its doors Sunday at 3 p.m. Maria and I brought a bottle of wine to Scott and Lisa, two triumphant yet exhausted people. In a few weeks, the cafe will re-open next door in a strikingly beautiful and expanded space, on the ground floor of Hubbard Hall, our gorgeous and beautifully preserved historic arts and education center.
This is not simply a small business victory, although it is that. It is actually much more. Scott and Lisa have long been obsessed with the idea of a community cafe, where people in our town can see one another, come together and share something of our lives.
I could not even begin to list the obstacles these two have faced in their long and hard struggle to make this work, there were so many days when it made sense to give up – when I begged them to give up – and they kept on.
And it was worth it, determination matters.
People from all over America helped them keep the cafe going and when they couldn't buy their own building, to find an even better space, and to have the resources to renovate and expand it. It will take a couple of hard weeks, but half the town is volunteering to help them and they are nearly there.
We will soon have our cafe back, and many of us will miss it every day that it is closed.
There is a personal note in this for me, and for Maria. I can't speak for anyone else, but the cafe means a lot to both of us.
We moved to Cambridge four years ago, battered and broke from our divorces and our long and unsuccessful struggle to sell the first Bedlam Farm. Neither of us had ever really known community before, we were both struggling with too many different things and lived lives that were both isolated and disconnected from the world around us.
When I left Hebron, no one came to say goodbye, and I didn't stop to say goodbye to anyone. I was too sick, really.
We were here about a year getting settled when the Round House opened, and while many people loved the idea, a lot of people thought it didn't have a chance. It's a small town, and there aren't enough people here to guarantee the success of any business. For businesses to succeed here, they have to draw people from outside, and they have to be special.
The Round House was a gateway for us to find our community, and to come and love it. I met Scott there – I didn't really know who he was before the cafe opened, and he didn't know me. We started talking, and he tried to teach me Tai Chi (ongoing) and I offered to help him with his writing (ongoing). The lessons happen sporadically, but the friendship with Scott, and then Lisa, bloomed for both of us.
When I came home from Open Heart Surgery, Scott came by every day to leave delicious and nutritious food for me. I spent glorious afternoons and evenings in the Sugar House with Scott, as beloved a male bonding ritual as any sport, especially for a nerd like me. Lisa, who is an artist, and Maria, who is an artist, spoke the same language and understood each other.
When Scott became exhausted after so many long and arduous days, he decided he must buy the building in order to survive there, business in our small town is erratic, the winters are hard and quiet, the summers full of tourists and visitors. He needed his own space to keep expenses down. I volunteered to help him launch a gofundme site to raise money to buy the building. That didn't work out, he and the landlord couldn't come to terms.
But a lot of people sent him money.
I believed then and now that the real issue here was not the cafe, but the very idea of community.
All over America, towns and villages are losing their institutions of community, their cafes, restaurants, grocery stories and business to globalization, government neglect and chain and box stores. Somewhere, somehow, we had to make a stand, turn the tide. People from all over America – and all over this town – responded, and joined the fight to keep this community cafe open. And that mattered.
The Round House Cafe is one of the few places we can see each other and become known to one another.
Scott couldn't buy the building, but we raised enough money for him to consider buying another space and renovating it if necessary. He and Lisa agonized for months about where to go, or whether to give up and cut their losses. They simply refused to quit, even as many of the people who loved them urged them to give it up.
When a remarkable space opened up in Hubbard Hall just a few feet away, they had the money to make the move and renovate it. It is a far better space than they could have imagined. They will now have a full kitchen and space for an innovative retail store selling baked goods, bread and crafts and unique things and art along with the cafe food.
Maria and I found our community there. We met many people. We deepened our friendships by having lunch there. There is something about a warm and inviting community space like that opens windows and doors, even for men, who almost always struggle to make and keep friends.
We went to open mike nights and read poems and stories there. Maria meets with her friends there every week. I have developed and sustained more friendships there than I have ever had. We don't all love one another here, of course, we are human. But we do know one another, and being known is the foundation of community. When someone is in trouble, we know it quickly, and we are a community that has a long tradition of rushing to help when someone else stumbles.
Community, after all, is not about being loved. It is about being known.
Week by week, the Round House has deepened this community.
We go to pizza night every Friday and listen to the surprisingly wonderful music from local musicians. High school kids come to sing and play and read their poems there. Local artist and photographers (me included) show their work there. Couples date there. Tourists are beginning to come from miles around for the food.
Maria sells her potholders there. Pastors bring their congregants there. And I often buy their wonderful soups and muffins and cakes (for Maria) there.
As a diabetic with a heart disease, where I eat and what I eat has become important, and the Round House menus is fresh, mostly locally produced, and healthy for me. There are not a lot of places where I can eat so well. The staff is careful not to serve me sugar or caffeine. If I am absent for days, someone usually calls me to ask if I'm okay.
Thanks to Scott and Lisa – and to so many of you – Maria and I have found a community at last, and so have hundreds of people in our town. A cafe is not a miracle maker, there was more to it than that, but we love our community, and this cafe is a major reason why.
Scott and Lisa have deepened and enriched our loves and the lives of so many others.
There are so many things in our lives that discourage community, and in many places kill it. Chain stores like Wal-Mart and franchises like Applebee's have killed countless small business and community gathering places. Economists and federal bureaucrats have long written off rural America, condemning family farms as inefficient and signing global trade agreements that take our jobs away.
Facebook and Twitter and cable channels keep Americans holed up in their homes night after night, they used to come out and meet and talk to one another. No wonder we are so polarized a country, it is difficult to find places where people can actually speak to on another.
It seemed to me that we will only save our communities if the people in them fight for them, and that is what happened here. People in town fought and so did many hundreds of people elsewhere – they knew this story only too well.
So today was a happy, landmark day.
It was, I am sure, an intensely emotional day for Scott and Lisa. It was emotional for me, and for Maria also. We wanted to mark it in some way, some red wine was the best idea we would come up with. We had a sweet hour sitting with Scott and Lisa and talking about their very bright future.
There was no sadness in the closing of Round House One, only exhilaration from us and the town and exhaustion and excitement from Scott and Lisa. They have been through a lot, and their love, humanity, and courage has resulted in a great triumph, for them surely, but for the very idea of community itself, embattled by economics and technology all over the country, and especially in rural America.
We are keeping our community. Thanks to you, Lisa and Scott, we love you both. Thanks to you, my readers, whose generosity helped make this happen. We raised more than $60,0000 and showed the country and the world that it can be done.