Our Third Place

Our Third Place…

by Lindsay Lucarelli

We all need somewhere to go. Somewhere that is not work, And, somewhere that is not home. Somewhere that is void of chores and includes connecting to others. Somewhere to meet people. These might be people we know. But, also people we don’t know. We all need a place that’s open and non-judgemental. This is a place that is accessible and casual. Somewhere where we can move, but isn’t just about movement. Somewhere we can meet, somewhere we can talk, somewhere we can just be.

We all need a third place.

Ray Oldenburg, a professor of sociology and anthropology, coined the phrase “third place.” He explains this to be a place “where you relax in public, where you encounter familiar faces and make new acquaintances”. In his writing on the topic, Oldenburg discusses a variety of places where you can go and just exist in the world — books stores, main streets, pubs, post offices, hair salons, and, yes, gyms.

Gyms, like our beloved Stow Fitness Center, are perfect third places because they are neutral. No one is required to belong. Those that do are here by choice. And, no one has a greater right or ownership to the gym than another. No one is more important than another here. We are all on equal footing inside Stow Fitness Center. Sure, we may get chatty as we gather for a class or move around the free weight area. But, with events like the Free Community Yoga in the Park Series, we work to make the group programs accessible to all.  We discover there are no barriers to this “third place.”

The gym is a great place to give and receive encouragement from others. Stow Fitness is often perceived as a community center because it has always been a gathering spot for those throughout Stow and surrounding communities. We have had our regulars who set the tone for newcomers and make them feel welcome. Stow Fitness is a comfortable “third place” for many. It can be a “home away from home” for some. But, it is a place where every member feels a sense of warmth and belonging. It is a place where people can “come as they are.”

And, as more and more of us live and work remotely out of our homes, Stow Fitness Center continues to be important to this community as a gathering place. Obviously, most join to help live healthier lives. But, many return again and again because of the connection that develops with instructors, staff, and other members. We like to see each other – particularly during COVID.

The physical distance has spaced us apart and pivoted many of our social connections to digital spaces. But, the gym’s group class streaming has brought the “third space’ experience to those that are not ready to come inside yet.  Stow Fitness Center member, Mike Misslin, writes:

“Jane and I are really appreciative of the amazing effort you’ve taken to keep all of us connected and fit during the pandemic. Zoom Yoga has taken some getting used to – just like Zoom everything else. But, you’ve kept us connected and active. Walking all of the local trails is great exercise and pretty interesting from a wildlife standpoint, but you don’t see people other than to wave from a safe distance. So you’re a pandemic hero and we’re all better for it.”

Stow Fitness gives people space and opportunities to easily engage with each other.  COVID has not stopped that – albeit, it has been a challenge. The gym has taken extensive measures to ensure cleanliness, mask-wearing, distance, and limited occupancy during COVID. But, it offers almost 40 group fitness classes to be accessible LIVE Stream.  This is the “third place” that continues to be accessible to all our members. Whether digital or in-person, you still feel welcome to join a class and just “move” with others. Or, throw on your headphones and hop on a machine inside the gym, and be motivated by the activity around you.

Stow Fitness is a capsule of “third placeness” for me – and many other members. It cares about our community and is the place where someone knows my name. It’s the place where we can throw on music in a room – or blast via my earphones – and just move. It’s the perfect place for whatever my mood is and accepts me “just as I am.” It’s the place where I see so many regulars that I don’t know well, but I can smile and say “Hi” to anyway. This is exactly the definition of the perfect “third place.”