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The New Deal Cafe becomes a 'community living room'

GREENBELT – When Amethyst Dwyer first moved to Greenbelt 19 years ago, she was just looking for a house with a yard in order to get a dog. She was just looking to rent at first, but instead fell in love with the town and decided to buy a townhouse.

However, Dwyer felt as though something was missing. She yearned for a place where the community could gather as peers.

Then, she found it.

The New Deal Café, currently located in the Roosevelt Center, is named after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s new deal, which created the city of Greenbelt and began just one year before Dwyer moved to town.

Originally, the café was open only on weekends as a way to showcase music in a room in the local community center, Dwyer said. Now, in the 15 years since Dwyer began working there, it has become a “community living room.”

“I just remember thinking Greenbelt would be perfect with a place like that, what the new deal has become,” Dwyer said. “So once we discovered it we just started getting involved in volunteering to make it thrive.”

Like so many businesses in Greenbelt, the New Deal Café is a co-op, meaning it is run by a group of citizens as opposed to one owner and anyone can become a member of the cooperative, Dwyer said. The Café is run by a board of directors, which Dwyer, who runs the bar and is in charge of booking music, is a member of.

Because the business is not run for profit, Dwyer said they have been on the verge of bankruptcy many times. Each time citizens would loan the café money with no expectation of being paid back, and volunteer to work shifts for free to help keep the café going.

“The New Deal has survived because people love it,” Dwyer said. “There are people that come into the café three, four, five times per week.”

According to Dwyer, people love the café because it gives them a place to socialize and interact with one another.

“Amethyst has done much for the café, from being the bar manager to also being the music coordinator,” said Lisa Voith, who served on the Board of Directors before Dwyer. “Her contribution in both capacities has added value to the cafe in terms of increased awareness of the cafes existence as a music venue, and the reputation of being a friendly place to come to. I'm always impressed with her demeanor with customers and coworkers.”

Dwyer’s favorite moment while working at the café came this past year during the Labor Day Parade.

“The New Deal, for the very first time in celebration of our 20th year, entered the Labor Day Parade. We hired a Dixie-style jazz band and so many people came out to participate and dressed in all kinds of funky costumes,” she said. “We just took over that parade, like a roving freak fest. It was awesome. We ended up winning Best-in-Parade.”

Looking forward, Dwyer is excited for the future of the café and is happy to be a part of it.

“Out of everything I’ve done in my life this is the most fulfilling,” she said. “You don’t necessarily make a ton of money, but that’s okay because you feel like a part of the community and you’re making an impact on people’s day-to-day lives and their sense of wellbeing. That just means everything to me.”

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