During my undergrad years at UNCG — a time for me of free thought, free love and philosophical maximalism — Tate Street Coffee’s jazz nights were my syncopated paradise.
Fast-forward a couple years, to my more cynical College Hill Sundries days, and I’d often find myself slugging down a PBR on the patio there, staring wistfully across Mendenhall Street. You see, on those sultry summer evenings, groups of skater kids too young for the dive scene would roof-sit on the vacant building across from College Hill and stare back.
That exchange was what I would come to know from MJ Zaborowska’s writings as a “gulf of otherness between cultures and individuals.”
The People’s Perk, a community-oriented coffee joint, now inhabits that same white cinderblock structure on Mendenhall Street — and explicitly challenges any “gulf of otherness” that might exist between its customers.
I, for one, sense an atmosphere of community solidarity emanating from the Perk as soon as I arrive. Bright flowers and a charming hand-painted sign adorn the walkway to the spacious shop area, where co-proprietors Nancy Lenk and Karen Archia have been slinging coffee since October 2013.
Lenk and Archia generated the idea for a joint-run coffee shop as both navigated a transition away from the non-profit world. Still, the two women rack up an impressive list of non-profit organizing experience, including longtime work for the fair housing and labor movements. Now, Lenk volunteers with the Creative Aging Network.
In keeping with the duo’s history of a community-building business ethic, Lenk said the People’s Perk exists in part to “encourage people to have conversations about social justice issues” in a safe and comfortable space.
“We believe everyone can create,” Lenk said.
The Perk backs up Lenk’s vision with a separate studio room where customers can paint, and with a shared art and writing book open for community use. By treating its patrons as “citizen artists,” the People’s Perk manages to create the kind of rare magic that can leave you feeling creatively recharged after spending time within its walls.
Let’s be real: Where else in Greensboro can you find a haul of greasy goodness fresh from Donut World daily — along with Diego Rivera posters and handmade patches in support of Black Lives Matter?
Plus, the People’s Perk strong “female owned and operated” presence stands out in the Greensboro coffeehouse scene.
Besides coffee, the last item I purchased there was a greeting card that quotes Rose Schneiderman. I relish its words, which echo the People’s Perk’s characteristic feel.
”What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist,” it says.… “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”