Community In Abundance

I think we can all remember our first visit to the Broad Street Market like we can remember our first taste of coffee: vivid and vibrant. The mental swirl of getting caught up in so many different smells, being pulled and drawn into the flow of foot traffic from stand to stand, the auditory clash of voices of every age, culture, and trade. Walking the full length of both buildings and then passing back through again to finally make some purchases, realizing you will have to visit the market again and again to try everything your eyes feasted on. One visit to a place filled with an almost overwhelming array of people, foods, and historical architecture, and you begin to anticipate your next visit, like you nightly anticipate your coffee the next morning. Inexplicably, you are drawn in, and you become part of the Market, like so many before you, and so many after you.

I was in college the first time I visited the Broad Street Market. I bought a pretzel roll from “the pretzel stand.” I bought a giant cookie surrounding a peanut butter cup from “the cookie stand.” I would dream about both of these foods until I could make it back to the Market again. I never dreamed that one day I would create “the coffee stand.” Or that this little stand would get to be a part of the Market’s history. Or that it would grow and change me in ways I never imagined. I was just seeking out pretzels and cookies. And community.

And community I found in abundance, because food and drink bring people together. This is a fundamental fact but also something you can simply feel in the air at a place like the Market. The concept of breaking bread together runs deep in humankind. But in a fast-paced world of deadlines and meetings and phones constantly pinging, the dedicated action of finding bread to break or coffee to drink with people in the flesh vs. their digital form is getting harder, the spaces that help create this simple action are getting fewer, and community as a whole, is getting lonelier.

However, it is difficult to find loneliness at the Broad Street Market. It fills that gap with its bustle, with vendors knowing your name and asking about your life. It can be found everywhere you look: from families eating breakfast sandwiches in the courtyard and meeting neighborhood dogs and their humans, to the act of buying freshly baked bread to share with friends. From day one for me, at Elementary, it was in the ability to say good morning and share a smile with so many folks just walking through the Brick Building, and developing an honest relationship with people who never even bought a cup of coffee. It proves that the Market is about so much more than quick transactions: it’s about seeing one another and genuinely having the space for a moment to care for each other.

And care for each other we have. After almost 9 years of serving cups of coffee and consequently building relationships with so many, I can say that I’ve laughed and cried with individuals; I’ve watched couples get together and bear the pain of separating; I have felt the shock waves of political turmoil and stood alongside our community to face them; I have met babies in their first weeks of life and have watched them grow up; I have assisted our community in facing many challenges and navigate new resolutions. I wish I could say, I’ve seen it all, but now more than ever, I’m convinced that there is no “seeing it all.” humans are far too dynamic, and life is far too complicated.

But this is the power of the Broad Street Market. The power is not in the tangible building itself; it’s all in the human connections and relationships built from everyone one of us who has visited. The power is in the laughter that is shared while purchasing donuts. It is in the warm feeling that is taken away from the conversation you had with a neighbor while buying meat. The power is in the knowledge that this space is special and it is worth being preserved.

The fire this summer was an incredible loss. But with it has come the realization that the Market is so much more than a building: it is all of us. Therefore all of us will help to preserve it. All of us will rebuild the brick building. All of us will carry the Market into the future. And with it, all of us will continue to create a safe space to meet over food and coffee, a space for all of us to share life. A space where someone else, like me, coming of age will buy pretzels and cookies and dream of their own way to help bring people together. And where someone who grew up in the city and someone who traveled in from outside its limits can both be buying coffee next to each other and realize they have more in common than they have different. All of these people, and everyone in between, are the Broad Street Market, and it is here now and will be here into the future.