Social Capital Amongst Small Businesses
The light at 6:50am shines golden on the signature sliding barn doors of Monsoon Roastery. Traffic is just starting to pick up and big rigs cut through the crisp morning air along the strip of Albany Street known as Gasoline Alley. Approaching the entrance, bleary eyed, in a pre-coffee haze, I hear the distinct whistling of the La Marzocco espresso machine and murmur of conversation slipping through the narrowly parted doors.
After a handful of reschedules, Tim and I finally found an early morning to talk about the idea of social capital, its function at both Monsoon and in the Springfield community. Despite my plan to be the first one through the door, I wasn’t surprised to find Tim multitasking from behind the counter, making up a coffee drink and chatting with two customers about their upcoming day as teachers. I have discovered that while Monsoon has a reputation as a great place to get coffee, it has also become a place where community gathers, even if it is just for a few minutes at the beginning of their day.
Sitting on the couch just outside the small shop Tim and I are forced to pause our conversation occasionally as customers stroll in along the path that leads from the parking lot behind Monsoon. Tim greets each customer with his signature smile and laid back, genuine “hey, how’s it going?” He seems to know something specific about each person who walks in the shop, be it simply their favorite drink or a significant moment in their life. I also notice there is an air of levity at Monsoon, as though this is the place many folks would prefer to remain for the day rather than continue on to their routine obligations.
Social capital can be looked at through a number of lenses but at its’ core is the value of social networks. For Monsoon that value does not necessarily exist on social media in the number of “likes” a post gets or the quantity of “friends” a page has but rather in how the members of the community support one another.
Tim tells me he sees social capital as a way for small businesses, entrepreneurs or even individuals trying to make a way for themselves to work together with the resources that they have which may not always be monetary. In their 2001 book Social Capital and Participation in Everyday Life, Paul Dekker and Eric Uslaner define social capital as “the value of social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people, with norms of reciprocity.”
Tim points to the Monsoon End of Summer bash as a great example of social capital. Billed as a ‘“Springfield Trifecta,”’ Monsoon hosted the event on August 31st inviting Rustic Brewing Company and Cantina Curbside Grill Food Truck to help celebrate the winding down of summer. “We had people here from all three crowds (Monsoon, Rustic and Curbside) come and hang out together and they all got to meet new people and try new things that maybe they haven’t tried before. And all the businesses ended up with a decent day out of it.”
Social capital is not necessarily a new phenomenon. The idea that it is your network, the people you know, that supports your success has existed for centuries. The old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” is essentially the premise on which social media was built. But while social media is a valuable tool that helps Monsoon reach its community and vice versa, social capital gives Monsoon access to the tangible aspects of the community.
Sidecar Bakery is a community business Monsoon frequently works with. Todd Crosset, owner and baker delivers pastries to Monsoon throughout the week and often sells Monsoon coffee to pair with his beignets and croissants.
When I caught up with Todd after the Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival we dove into the inception of Sidecar Bakery and the interesting matrix he used to measure success during the early days. When I asked how he made the connection with Monsoon Todd reflected on a number of moments he and Tim crossed paths that eventually led to them agreeing that Monsoon and Sidecar should work together. “To me, it’s important that you align yourself with folks who share your principles and values, and also quality.” Todd explains that he wants his pastries to be presented by people who care about high quality and feels Monsoon does that. “He (Tim) has high quality coffee that he thinks about a lot and he cares about people, and so in that sense, it’s a really nice match.
Beth Welty is a musician by trade playing violin with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra and in her free time, she is a potter. You can find her creations displayed at Monsoon but they’re more than just beautifully crafted pieces of art, they’re utilitarian. Monsoon uses Beths mugs and espresso cups to serve drinks. The partnership was born when Tim found a sample of her work at the Westfield Farmers Market and inquired about purchasing mugs for the shop. Beth says for her, social capital is the appreciation of finding what you need in your community. “There is so much money being siphoned from us, the average people, to these huge corporations so I appreciate whenever you can keep the money in the community, support each other, and take some of the power back.”
One of the ways Monsoon leverages their strong Instagram following is with the “Monsoon Peoples” video series which recognizes a customer. In a way the video series adds another layer to social capital by turning the spotlight on the community. It’s more than just a thank you to customers; it’s a way of stating that we value you more than just someone who buys our coffee, you are more than that to us. We see you and we appreciate the contributions you make to our community.
Morning is now in full swing, customers are visiting with steady frequency. Tim’s list of businesses and individuals in Monsoon’s “social capital circle” continues to grow. He mentions Nosh for their food contributions and Dyllusions who made Monsoon’s tap handles and coffee scoops from recycled skateboard decks. And then there is It Makes Scents by Michelle who took Monsoon coffee beans and made coffee scented soaps.
Before Tim and I each transition to our respective daily routines I ask him about the future of Monsoon. Tim smiles and settles into his corner of the couch, thoughtful for a moment. “We’re trying to work toward building a place where people can come and hang out, and be present, and develop relationships with each other.” Tim seems humbled when I tell him, “for that, all you need is more space.” He responds, “You never really know where something is going to head, things can change in an instant. But right now, I think the direction we’re heading is really fun and pretty unique”.