We may live in a digital world, but two Utah businesses — both founded during the pandemic — are case studies in delivering social connection. | Photo courtesy of Villa Ceramics

How Utah businesses are redefining community post-pandemic

We may live in a digital world, but two Utah businesses — both founded during the pandemic — are case studies in delivering social connection. | Photo courtesy of Villa Ceramics
We may live in a digital world, but two Utah businesses — both founded during the pandemic — are case studies in delivering social connection. | Photo courtesy of Villa Ceramics

It’s no secret that the pandemic upended workers’ lifestyles and habits. In a matter of a few weeks, work went from a place you physically go to more of a state of mind. Now, a few years removed from this drastic shift, many workers, regardless of their work arrangement, seek outlets for familiarity, trust and connection — among other perks.

Connecting for the sake of it

Enter the concept of a “third place.” This sociological term is rooted in the idea that the “first place” is your residence, and your “second place” is a workplace or school. Your “third place” is one that doesn’t fit either activity or function. Your third place can be virtually any location that falls outside of those bounds. Think coffee shops, parks, bookstores, churches and community centers. There are really no hard or fast rules about what qualifies as one. The only common thread is that nobody requires your presence. 

In other words, people frequent these venues because of the positive associations and perceived benefits. One marker of a third place is a related social contract, either implicit or explicit. Whatever the personal appeal, third places are generally about inclusivity, safety and community. By upholding these values, community members foster and maintain a culture that makes it inviting to newcomers and keeps people coming back for more.

However, unlike in a work setting under capitalism, there are no expectations around productivity or results. Instead, these contexts are where community members often enjoy direct social interaction and possibly share common interests. The beauty of these spaces is there’s no obligation to engage or contribute in a meaningful way. Sitting in a coffee shop and taking in the sights, smells and noises can inspire and lift spirits. Others might report the same feelings from sitting in a theater among fellow enthusiasts. 

Being a part of a shared experience or physical destination helps build individual and collective identities away from home or work. These hubs are tied to social well-being in a world that’s become increasingly lonelier. The implications of this public health crisis are stark. A July 2021 brief from the World Health Organization on loneliness serves as a cautionary tale about the negative impact it can have on mental and physical health — even leading to early mortality.

The report’s findings drive home a universal truth: Humans are hard-wired for connection, whether at home, work or in the community.

Creative outlet

Villa Ceramics in Orem has fostered an environment ripe for bonding. The pottery studio is a family-owned business that grew from a modest concept to a brick-and-mortar destination. Co-owners, Brenda Villanueva Adams and Micah Adams, started small after a few pottery classes and then turned their shared passion into a business. 

They say timing is everything, and the couple has seemed to defy the odds while cultivating a loyal following.

“We started back in May of 2021 and opened up right after the mask mandate in Utah was removed,” Micah says. “Throughout the last three years, we’ve had customers of all ages and demographics. We attract customers from all walks of life; however, the highest percentage of customers are couples most likely between ages 25-40. Their reasoning for coming in varies between wanting to try pottery once, wanting to get into it and learn more, or simply looking for a new outlet for a date night or activity.”

Community is at the center of the Villa Ceramics customer experience. According to Micah, they’ve intentionally designed the space to be communal, meaning one-time customers, loyal ones and members all use the same space. This allows people to ultimately find something in common with each other through the medium of pottery.

Another way they’re helping bring people together is by empowering customers to show off the fruits of their creative labor. 

“We hold a pottery sale for all of our members each year that allows them to showcase their work, invite friends and the public to come see, and ultimately share their passion for pottery in a way they wouldn’t have an opportunity to do otherwise,” Micah says.

The membership opportunity is noteworthy in his estimation for a few reasons. The perks allow members to have a locker with their name and a place to store their pottery equipment. It also creates a sense of ownership and pride in their work.

Member or not, Micah says it’s important that every person who sets foot in the studio leaves with a positive impression.

“Our goal is to provide a relaxing and comforting environment where people want to be,” he says. “Classic pottery studios have clay and dust everywhere and are quite unorganized most of the time. We aim to be the opposite of that so people feel at home with us.”

“Our goal is to provide a relaxing and comforting environment where people want to be.”

Your third space community 

Salt Lake City’s Crystal Journey is more niche than Villa Ceramics, though the common thread is helping people escape the everyday grind — and find clarity along the way. Established in 2020, the family-owned business started in a flea market with only two tables. What once was just a dream has now become two locations, along with multiple pop-up events.

Crystal Journey caters to customers ranging from healing arts practitioners to those simply enchanted by the beauty of minerals and handcrafted jewelry. According to Manager Luis Mejia, they take pride in hand-selecting each piece, ensuring top-notch quality and authenticity.

But there’s more to this store than inventory. Mejia says the products are a means to an end.

“At the heart of Crystal Journey is our community,” he says. “Beyond our store, we love connecting with people at local pop-up events, sharing our knowledge and learning more about the holistic benefits of crystals. We’re big on education, both within our walls and at community events — it’s all about spreading good vibes and wisdom.”

Mejia says their clientele have responded well to their approach, praising the tranquility and friendly atmosphere they’ve found in this welcoming space. 

“With a solid five-star rating on Google, we’re known for our peaceful environment and a team that treats everyone like family,” Mejia says.

Looking to the future, Meija says they plan to continue on their current path while adding some new offerings. 

In his words, “The future’s bright with plans to enhance our space into a workshop haven for all things yoga, Reiki, sound healing and more. We’re currently sprucing up our studio space to welcome the community for some truly grounding experiences.”