When the three-story office building went up on the corner of Willowdale and Route 1, I didn’t think much of it. Another building, big deal. When I heard that they were thinking of putting a coffee shop in the building I thought: How long will that last? The tenants will have to drink a lot of coffee to support that.

My mentality had fallen into bedroom-community mode. Office buildings were for their tenants, and the rest of the community would just pass by en roue to work and to a number of other activities that fill the day. The fact that this coffee shop didn’t have a drive-through was surely another nail in the coffin.

It happened naturally. The Willowdale Place building has become a community gathering spot, and is a welcomed change to a bedroom-community mentality. When the Scarborough Community Chamber board was looking for a place to meet, the third-floor conference room of Allied Home Mortgage was offered. Since then, other groups in town have used this conference room. Smart move. It’s brought people in, and opened eyes to a positive direction in which Scarborough is heading. We’re growing up, rather than out, and this brings community together.

Owners Andy Kessler and Jon Stratton opened their coffee shop and gave it a nice, catchy name – Freaky Bean. Like the building itself, they went against all odds. They didn’t buy a franchise with a canned program and winning formula that scoop up fast dollars and send people on their merry little way.

No. Like the building itself, people are invited in. And what’s not to love. There’s a welcoming, European feel to the atmosphere. Great coffee with truffles or pastries if you wish are all locally supplied. And come lunch time, soup and sandwiches are offered.

The atmosphere invites customers to sit down and stay a while and connect with one another, both near and far. The owners’ demeanor suggests they’re glad you’re here. The coffee bar invites you to belly up to chat with the owners, employees and other patrons.

Depending on your wish, you can choose a quiet. window seat, where you can wirelessly connect on your laptop, or an inviting living room area with leather chairs, which encourages spontaneous discussion among the group gathered or offers just plain relaxing.

Freaky Bean has become a destination hub – a community home-away-from-home for some, a second home-office for others, or a place to hold spontaneous community forums. One thing is for sure – a lot more than coffee drinking is happening.

A community is brewing here, and on many different levels, great things are happening. Last week, my back-door neighbor showed up. Funny, I thought, I connect with you in the coffee shop in town, but not in my back yard. We caught up. A relative had died. What should she do with all the stuff? A little coffee-shop chat with the people gathered in the area solved her problem. Project GRACE, Fiddlehead Arts or the school art department may welcome the donation. Great things happen when we all put our heads together.

Jim Damicis arrived. Operation Cupid was top of mind for him. Troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait need to know that our community cares and appreciates all they do for us. Through Operation Cupid, members of the community purchase a red heart and write a message. The money raised will buy calling cards so that troops can call their families on Valentines’ Day. Make a donation, grab a heart and write a message. Hearts can be purchased and dropped off at Scarborough’s Ace Hardware stores, Wal-Mart, Freaky Bean, the post office and the library. Though they may be far away, this effort broadens the community connection.

Other coffee-shop buzz grabbed my attention. An Italian benefit dinner and a silent auction will be held at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church this Saturday for Stephen Pallotta, a Scarborough firefighter-paramedic who developed a mysterious and progressive illness two years ago. He is currently confined to a wheelchair at age 35, and his wife and two children are struggling with expenses. Though treatment has been found by a specialist in New York that could ultimately get him out of the wheelchair, the treatment is considered out-of-network. The high cost must come out-of-pocket for the family and they are asking for help. A donation of $20 adult/$5 children is suggested, and tickets can be purchased by calling 883-3934.

Freaky Bean is brewing up community, Freaky Bean style. If you want to know what’s going on – come in, sit down and put some heads together. A lot can happen in this friendly coffee shop.

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