Sunday, August 7, 2011

Goodbye to a Beloved Nobscot Gathering Place

Community planners and social scientists often refer to the concept of a "third place" - the home being first and the work place second - where people gather.

For many people in Nobscot, that third place has been Annie's Book Stop/Espresso Paulo in the Nobscot Shopping Center on Water Street. But now, after over ten years, this beloved neighborhood institution is closing on August 31.

To say that owner Paul Ashton merely ran a bookstore cafe` is like saying New York City's Russian Tea Room is just a restaurant. Ashton essentially presided over Nobscot's de facto community and cultural center. Artists, writers, politicians, community groups, and lecturers on numerous subjects, were only part of the perpetual salon that enlivened the shop not only during its normal operating hours but often late into the evening as well. Exhibits by local artists hung on the walls and book signings by local authors were common events.

Routinely working seven days a week, often for twelve hours or more, Ashton's lively spirit and puckish British humor endeared him to his loyal patrons, many of whom became his good friends over the years.

Anyone who wanted to know what was going on in Nobscot merely needed to walk in the door. If Ashton, a tireless promoter of the village, didn't have an answer, he always had an opinion, and could probably steer you to someone who did have an answer. When the Nobscot Neighbors community group was formed in late 2008, Ashton was one of the founding members, and immediately offered his shop as a meeting space. Here, on many an evening, residents fervently talked about Nobscot's problems and potential solutions, and friendships and alliances formed.

Whether he was serving up a perfect cappuccino or one of his famous scones, recommending a book, bringing in a masseuse to provide chair massages to patrons, presiding over an artistic or literary event, or hosting one of his legendary after-hours pot luck dinners, Ashton brought an energy and community spirit to Nobscot that will not be easily replaced. When those doors close at the end of this month and the ubiquitous neon "Coffee" sign is turned off forever, a part of the village's soul will go with it.