James Pirtle owns the ice cream parlor on the corner of 25th and Ridge in East St. Louis. It is a hotspot for many community members. People come to get the most recent city gossip, play cards, and get a scoop or two of delicious ice cream. Mr. Pirtle and everyone who works there know just about all patrons by name, greeting them with a handshake, if not a lengthy conversation. Patrons use the sidewalk in front of the café to make phone calls, look out for friends, and catch up with each other.
Mr. Pirtle encouraged this by setting up a sitting area just in front of his building. This makes his café more inviting and it allows for him and his employees to interact with patrons both inside the shop and outdoors. It also allows for people to use his space as they see fit. For example, people can have phone conversations at a normal conversational level (without having to whisper) and in privacy (they can walk at their leisure down the block or away from others if they choose). This allows them to discuss semi-sensitive issues like business and politics, which adds to Pirtle’s status as a social hub.
It’s clear that several elements keep people coming back to Pirtle’s Café. The café is a major community hub where people meet, converse, and exchange information. Ice cream may be what draws people in, but the conversation is what makes them stay. There is a level of comfort and understanding – a rhythm that keeps people coming back.
Mr. Pirtle has been involved with ESLARP and the University of Illinois in an informational role, but the 2010 Fall Semester marks the beginning of a large-scale project that will span several semesters, two computer installations, and multiple LIS 451 students. The following sections of the website detail our vision for Pirtle’s Café, the work done to date, and plans for the future.