Opinions

OPINION: Giving thanks for a downtown Anchorage coffee shop that created community

Side Street Espresso, George Gee, Deb Seaton, coffee shop, closing business, downtown Anchorage

If downtown functions as both Anchorage’s front porch, where we welcome guests, as well as our living room, where we gather to celebrate and occasionally commiserate, nowhere has felt more like our community’s hearth than Side Street Espresso. It has provided a place for that daily caffeine boost, a location for business leaders to compromise and coordinate for the future of our city, for musicians to hone their craft and for artists to display their work. At the tables of Side Street, community members schemed, hatched big ideas, ambitious plans and maybe some hijinks for good, not evil, with a vision of moving our city forward from what it is to what we hope it might be.

A visit to this quaint coffee shop on G Street quickly turned newcomers to repeat customers into friends and, eventually, something that felt like family. Each morning there, Deb Seaton greeted her guests with grace, love and kindness. Her questions about their friends and family revealed that the last time they spoke, she truly listened. If food provides nourishment but is also a direct way to communicate that you care, Deb’s delicious and hearty soups and Saturday’s biscuits and gravy filled and nurtured bellies and hearts with warmth, sustenance and comfort.

Side Street Espresso, George Gee, Deb Seaton, coffee shop, closing business, downtown Anchorage

George Gee’s daily drawings, known as “Flutters,” took the medium of a whiteboard and dry-erase markers to the next level, giving a glimpse into a complex, incredibly generous, social justice-driven, tenderhearted and hilarious individual. His drawings highlighted and gave insight into members of our community and their unique talents, skills and voices. Each morning, these thoughtful musings would either bring a chuckle, intense introspection or a call to action.

Side Street provided a stage for new musicians to boost confidence and for more established ones to test new material. This live music and cultivation of local musicians created a sense of belonging, igniting connections and inspiring feelings of unity so critical for a vibrant downtown. Poetry, engaged community discussions, civic discourse — all found their place on that Side Street stage.

The love and commitment to community and our downtown that has been poured into every cup of coffee has irreversibly transformed the space, and Side Street closing leaves a gaping hole in the fabric of our downtown. Even before it is gone, there is a nostalgia for the irreplaceable.

The strength of cities and downtowns comes from their evolving and changing nature; they are never meant to stay the same. But occasionally, there is a shop owner, a customer or a downtown character who has had such a profound impact that, in their absence, the place is forever changed.

And even though the nature of a city’s downtown demands transformation — we mourn this loss, particularly and acutely, like a phantom limb, while celebrating the next journey ahead for Deb and George, and all of us.

We are forever grateful to Deb and George for showing the best of what a downtown can be.

Sen. Tom Begich and Anchorage Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant represent downtown Anchorage in the Alaska Senate and on the Anchorage Assembly, respectively. Amanda Moser is an Anchorage downtown advocate.

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