COLUMBIA—As Stephanie Bridgers walked around her neighborhood—the Shandon community in Columbia—she realized her community didn’t have a place where all people, including her son with autism, could enjoy fellowship.
Inspired, the Shandon United Methodist Church member stepped out on a leap of faith and started The Local Buzz.
The Local Buzz is not only a coffee shop but also a space for the local community, a place where everyone is accepted without question.
“The location was a big deal to me, because Shandon didn’t have any community space like this, and I wanted something in the neighborhood to bring the community together,” Bridgers said.
She got what she wanted. People today come to The Local Buzz not only for coffee but also for Bible study or a good place to work or study.
The Local Buzz isn’t your usual coffee shop; it is an experience on its own. Even before you walk into the shop, you notice it is the busiest storefront in the small red-brick strip mall. Inside, you find the inviting aroma of fresh coffee and warm muffins. Everyone who walks in receives a friendly, sincere welcome from the employees. Young people enjoy a conversation. Two gentlemen have a spirited talk. A student works on a paper.
Bridgers loves that she’s created a place not only where community members can feel welcome but her children can, too.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for 13 years with two of my kids that have autism, and I struggled to find a place for my kids to just be accepted,” Bridgers said. “I did have six years of experience in hospitality, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I open a place that people with special needs will be accepted but a space for the entire community as well?’”
Some of her employees have special needs, too.
The Local Buzz tries hard to stay local, with coffee, muffins and ice cream coming from Columbia-area businesses. Everything is all-natural, with some gluten-free and vegan products.
The coffee shop has been open for only nine months, but Bridgers said it has had a greater impact than anyone would have realized, and every day is a new experience of learning and getting to know their neighbors.
“For the local buzz, every day there is a new reason why we did it,” Bridgers said.