A third place to spark community a small town

A few years ago 32-year old Melanie DiPasquale felt there was something missing in her small town of Brunswick, Maryland, pop. 5000, something very familiar to the typical creative… a third place where people in the community could get together spontaneously.

At that same time she spotted a for sale sign on a church built in 1910 that had been abandoned for ten years. Obviously, the church carried with it a lot of stories for many of the locals, so it seemed natural to restore it into a destination where they could share them, which Melanie proceeded to do with her family’s help. Beans in the Belfry opened in October, 2004 and has become a regional institution ever since.

As you can see, it’s unlike any coffeehouse or cafe you’ve ever seen. The front of the church is very unassuming, with a modest sign – I actually passed by it even when I was looking for it. However, upon walking through the big front doors (as you’d expect for a church) you’d swear you were thrust into a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Hobbit with Harry Potter in Mr. Magorium’s Magic Emporium. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

You’ll see a kids’ corner with dress-up clothes, big wooden dominoes, huge lollipops, books, and games amid a hodgepodge of what seems like living room sets. You’ll experience myriad events, live radio broadcasts on Friday mornings, open mic night on Friday nights, jazz during Sunday brunch, tea time on Sunday afternoons, and live music three nights a week. There’s free wifi, of course, and even rentable computers in the choir balcony. Then there’s the food – the paninis, milkshakes, and fairtrade coffees and teas are highly acclaimed and more than affordable, while the pie is definitely worth returning for.

If you’re looking for a defining example of place dripping with authenticity, this is it.