Coté Soerens: Creating a Coffee Shop for the Whole Neighborhood

If you heard that a new coffee shop was opening in a lower-income neighborhood, what would be your reaction? In most bigger cities and plenty of smaller ones, the coffee shop is a universal symbol for gentrification. It means that this neighborhood has been designated as the new trendy hotspot and rents are about to go up.

At Strong Towns, we’ve been having an ongoing conversation about the meaning of the term “gentrification” and the complex story behind this concept that is so often oversimplified in public discourse and media. It’s not as clean-cut as “poor people live here and now they’re getting kicked out and that’s bad.” Empty storefronts getting filled, streets getting fixed up and property values increasing are all good things—especially when we consider the alternative, which is those storefronts remaining vacant, those streets staying neglected, and the people who live there experiencing continued disinvestment and devaluation of their neighborhood.  

The problem comes when the people who live in a given community are excluded from the improvement and new investment that’s happening there. If we can help neighborhoods incrementally revitalize—if we can make space and opportunity for residents to start businesses, fix up homes and storefronts, and make their community a more prosperous place—then we’re accomplishing something different. This is what Incremental Development Alliance co-founder, Monte Anderson calls “gentlefication.”

This week’s Bottom-Up Revolution podcast episode features Coté Soerens, who opened a coffee shop in a lower-income immigrant neighborhood in Seattle. She’s participating in that positive reinvestment and revitalization, rooted in and for the community. Resistencia Coffee was founded a few years ago with the intention of being a neighborhood “third space”—a place to hang out and spend time with neighbors outside of the home or workplace.  

The coffee shop came into being through the efforts of so many community members, from investors who helped with start-up capital to contractors who helped build out the space, and many others. In this conversation with Strong Towns Program Director Rachel Quednau, you’ll hear about Coté’s dedication to helping her community grow and thrive, while also operating a financially sustainable business. You’ll learn about the essential need for listening to and collaborating with neighbors to make an effort like this successful. And you’ll also hear about the unique ways Coté has adapted her business and space during COVID.

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