Wellness collective, coffee shop a safe space for gathering, healing and building community

Self-described as “a collective of business owners who work together to provide self-care services to our clients and one another,” Communitea Wellness has transformed its vintage Grand Rapids building at 781 College Ave NE into a shelter from the storm of everyday life. Front and center, Lotus Brew Coffee/Dry Bar makes customers feel at home within the first-floor store front. In addition to delicious coffee drinks and teas, delightful mocktails and scrumptious pastries, the LGBTQ-friendly café hosts a banned book library, tarot card readings and a “Secret” Gay Coffee Club.

“The entire point of [the “Secret” Gay Coffee Club] is it's not a secret,” says Max Freeman, owner of Lotus Brew. “It's a way for us to make a place where folks feel accepted, loved and welcome. It's also a way for us to team up with different organizations that are doing work on the ground in Grand Rapids.”

So far, Lotus Brew has donated funds to Grand Rapids Pride CenterThe Red ProjectNew City Neighbors and other local organizations that give back to community. “Kindness Cups” invite patrons to purchase a beverage for the next patron who comes in and is unable to afford one. Gay or straight, anyone with hopes that a better world is possible finds a nice corner of that world here.

“We ask folks to write down a small phrase on a coffee sleeve, something that might have helped them when they were struggling. Folks have really taken off with this,” Freeman says. “It’s this kind, gentle reminder to folks who might be struggling with homelessness or, recently, Ukrainian refugees. They can get a free coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, whatever their choice and there's no questions. At the end of the day, it helps our neighborhoods.”

In separate rooms at the rear of the building, Communitea Wellness owner, Libby Sturrus, and four other alternative healers, practice their modalities. Sturrus, a licensed massage therapist, evolves treatments to meet each client’s needs and provides tools, such as stretches and body mechanics awareness, to continue healing outside of the therapy room.

Susan Athey, Mooncloud Massage, has certifications as both a massage therapist and physical therapy assistant, a career she practiced for 15 years in California, Chicago and Michigan. Sarah Ahrens, Restorative Healing Massage, focuses on relaxing, therapeutic, and restorative massage using deep tissue, trigger point, medical, Swedish and relaxation massage techniques. Marisa’s Vibe's Marisa Hohaia has a background in psychology and recruitment and certifications as a life coach and in reiki, a modality she found successful for her own healing journey. Danielle Sheridan, Danielle’s Soul Clinic, learned about reiki after being diagnosed with a chronic illness. She is now excited to share this healing modality with others.

Upstairs, Lumeria Yoga's boutique studio classes include everything needed for a good session — mats, bolsters, blocks, meditation pillows, blankets for Savasana, and a cup of herbal tea after class.

“Our mission is collaboration, not competition,” Sturrus says. “We put one hand down to help each other and one hand out to continue to grow. We've been changing the business model, especially for services like massage, where we share each other's clients and help each other out. We have our autonomy, but we also can work collectively.”

During monthly marketing meetings, owners of all seven Communitea Wellness Collective businesses meet to brainstorm ideas for growing their businesses, finding more ways to collaborate and creating meaningful change in community. As its website states, Communitea Wellness “will always have the kettle on, the massage table warm and a kind welcome for friends old and new.”

“We don't want ‘Communitea Wellness’ to just be a name,” Sturrus concludes. “We want it to be real.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Photos Tommy Allen

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Related Company