Wellness collective, cafe a safe space to gather, heal and build community

Describing itself as “a collective of business owners who work together to provide self-care services to our clients and each other,” 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 in the storefront on the first floor. In addition to delicious coffee drinks and teas, delicious mocktails, and delicious pastries, the LGBTQ Cafe hosts a library of forbidden books, tarot card readings, and a “Secret” Gay Coffee Club.

“All the interest of [the “Secret” Gay Coffee Club] it’s no secret,” says Max Freeman, owner of Lotus Brew. “It’s a way for us to create a place where people feel accepted, loved and welcome. It’s also a way for us to team up with different organizations working on the ground in Grand Rapids.

To date, Lotus Brew has donated funds to the Grand Rapids Pride Center, The Red Project, New City Neighbors and other local organizations that give back to the community. “Kindness Cups” invite customers to purchase a drink for the next customer who arrives who cannot afford one. Gay or straight, all those who hope that a better world is possible find a nice corner of this world here.

“We ask people to write a short phrase on a coffee pouch, something that might have helped them when they were struggling. People really took off with that,” Freeman says. “This is a kind and gentle reminder to people who may be struggling with homelessness or, recently, Ukrainian refugees. They can get free coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, whatever they choose and there are no questions. Ultimately, it helps our neighborhoods.

In separate rooms at the back 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 stretching and body mechanics awareness, to continue healing outside of the therapy room.

Susan Athey, Mooncloud Massage, has certifications as a massage therapist and physical therapy assistant, a career she has pursued for 15 years in California, Chicago and Michigan. Sarah Ahrens, Restorative Healing Massage, focuses on relaxing, therapeutic and restorative massage using deep tissue, trigger points, medical, Swedish and relaxation massage techniques. Marisa Hohaia of Marisa’s Vibe has a background in psychology and recruitment and certifications as a life coach and reiki, a modality she has found successful for her own healing journey. Danielle Sheridan, Danielle’s Soul Clinic, discovered 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 great session – mats, bolsters, blocks, meditation pillows, blankets for Savasana, and a cup of herbal tea after class.

“Our mission is collaboration, not competition,” says Sturrus. “We give each other a hand to help each other and a hand to keep growing. We have changed the business model, especially for services like massage, where we share each other’s customers and help each other. We have our autonomy, but we can also work collectively.

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

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

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor

Pictures Tommy Allen