Covid Ruined Our Hangout Spots. Here’s How They Come Back.
“Third spaces” like coffeeshops, gyms and libraries are critical for building community ties and boosting social cohesion. What happens when they almost disappear for more than a year?

ALIE VOLPE | For Reid Shaffer, hitting the gym is about more than just physical exercise — it’s an excuse to flex his social muscles too. By design, the gym presents plenty of opportunities to break the ice, the 25-year-old says; ask a stranger to spot you on a bench press or inquire about another gym-goer’s gear. These conversation starters have served him well: Shaffer, the general manager of a landscaping company in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has made several friends via gym small talk.
But when Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered gyms, among many other non-essential businesses, to close their doors last March, Shaffer began to feel anxious and without an outlet to fulfill his social needs. “It’s a lot of missed connections and interactions that you could’ve possibly had,” Shaffer says.
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