A Cafe sans Screens and Wifi

A coffee shop. A nice place to work, right? Or socializing?

In October, Preservation in Pink discussed the Coffee Shop Conundrum: coffee shop atmosphere and aesthetics, the cost of a cup of coffee, how much to spend in a small business, and how long to stay. Do you have coffee shop guilt? How can a coffee shop be the best atmosphere, the most inviting, and still make a profit?

You might have seen the recent NPR story on August First, a coffee shop/cafe in Burlington, Vermont that has banned screens (laptops and tablets) as of March 31, 2014. Why? Customers were squatting, staying too long and the business was losing money. Buying a few cups of coffee for a few hours was just not cutting it for profits. Additionally, when all of the tables are always full with people and laptops, it does not create the community feel that August First wanted. Rather than being social and neighborly, people were setting up shop with more space than needed and not leaving. The tables were not turning over. So August First made a bold move. Two years ago they cut the free wifi, and this year they banned screens (smartphones are allowed). The result? Sales have increased, even with people’s complaining.

August First in Burlington, VT.

August First in Burlington, VT.

While banning screens sounds crazy, you can probably understand August First’s point-of-view. Haven’t you ever walked into a cafe where the tables were all full, some with one person taking up a table for four? That isn’t fair to anyone.

If you read the comments on the NPR articles (hundreds) you’ll see that there are many issues at hand:

  1. Customers squatting at tables cuts down in revenues because tables do not turn over;
  2. Tables that do not turn over will discourage people from returning because they expect to not be able to find a table;
  3. What sort of atmosphere are the business trying to create?;
  4. Cafes are not meant to be alternate offices for freelancers (although I’m sure we’ve all wished about that!);
  5. Is there more of an issue for small business owners than chains such as Starbucks or Barnes & Noble?

The first two are easy to comprehend. Customers spending a few hours and drinking two cups of coffee, for example, will not create as much business as a group of people drinking a cup of coffee or eating a meal. Customers taking up more than one chair and space for one person, prevent more customers from choosing to drink/dine in this cafe.

Yet, some businesses might want the creative writing/academic/business crowd to settle in for a while and appreciate the space. Some people crave working in environments where you are allowed to drink coffee (as in, not the library) and hear the hum of everyday life around you while you work. As discussed in Coffee Shop Conundrum, Starbucks is not an environment where you’d want to say a while (in my opinion). A local, cozy, friendly coffee shop is. At that point, the issue becomes about respect and etiquette, issues often overlooked when screens are in front of our faces. Do not use the coffee shop as your office and spend enough money when you are there. However, what is the appropriate amount of money?

The issue of coffee shop space diverges into credit card v. cash purchases and the evolving nature of how we communicate, interact, and work.

Are there solutions? Well, for those who do not understand that a coffee shop is not an office, they should consider collaborative/co-working office space: renting a desk in an office with other freelancers. If you find the right space, you’ll find your ideal coffee shop/work atmosphere. Even the small city of Montpelier, Vermont has such a space – Local 64. Look around in your city.

What about a different approach? How about a pay-as-you-go space? A cafe in the U.K. and one in Buenos Aires serve as the examples. You pay for the amount of time that you’re in the cafe, not for anything else. It hearkens back to the days of the internet cafe, when you were paying for internet. It’s another version of the co-working space.

And then there are variations. Some coffee shops give you a code when you place an order. Once you run out of internet time, you have to buy something else to get additional time. Other places request that you limit your time and table space during busy hours. Perhaps creating a screen section would work.

Of course, each business can do what is best for its business and create the environment it would like. As we become more mobile and screen-attached, small businesses will have to be creative and find solutions to keep up their profits. Good job to August First for being braving and finding what works for them. Not to mention, the food is delicious, and August First is located in a historic building.

What do you think? Are there other issues? Does your favorite coffee shop have wifi? Any other solutions? What’s the balance?

Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent

Have you done any local shopping lately? It’s easier in the summertime when you can places and don’t mind taking extra time to stroll on the streets, or to head downtown rather than to the strip malls on the outskirts. Do you agree? What do you find to be the easiest thing to purchase locally?

Check out this new “Buy Local” infographic. (Who doesn’t love infographics?!)

Click to Enlarge Image

CustomMade Buying Local Infographic

Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent Infographic by CustomMade

Previous post on Buy Local posters. Will you make an effort to increase your local business spending this summer? Just $10 per month to a local business, as opposed to a big chain? You can do it!

Preservation ABCs: Q is for Quality of Life

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

Q is for Quality of Life

A historic, walkable downtown like this one of Barre, VT might fit your quality of life.

A historic, walkable downtown like this one of Barre, VT might fit your quality of life.

Historic preservation aims to preserve the quality of life which a community values and to help foster and improve quality of life where possible. It is important to understand that quality of life means different things to everyone. Some people prefer bustling cities with reliable public transit and walkable neighborhoods. Others prefer rural country living with a small center of town. Community events might be important. Or local restaurants. Or nearby playgrounds and schools. Some prefer the beach or the mountains or the plains. The bottom line is that everyone defines their quality of life differently.

How does historic preservation connect to quality of life? Simply put, historic preservation seeks to improve the local economy, maintain and rehabilitate the existing building stock, increase awareness of a community’s heritage, engage citizens, preserve the significant past for the future and identify what and why a community is important to itself and to others. By involving people with each other and the built environment around them, their sense of place will improve and people will develop pride in their place. When people are proud of where they live and can identify what is important to them, they are happier, and as a result quality of life improves. It’s a simple chain reaction that historic preservation helps to begin. Historic preservation does not force ideas onto communities or tell people what they should prefer; it hopes the community will speak up and citizens will say “This is important to us! This is who we are and what our community is!” From that point, historic preservation will find methods to improve and protect the quality of life.

So you see, anything can feed into quality of life. And quality of life feeds into historic preservation. My favorite chain reaction is this: people define where they live –> people improve their communities and protect their communities –> people have a sense of place –> people have pride in where they live –> people have a good quality of life –> everyone is happier … therefore … historic preservation is helping to make the world a better place and helping to save the world (as we flamingos might say).

Preservation ABCs: E is for Economics

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.

————————–

E is for Economics

The corner of State Street and Main Street in Montpelier, VT.

Historic preservation is good for the economic health of your town, city, state and country; the two fields are inherently related. Investing in existing buildings in cohesive commercial cores brings people, dollars and life to your historic downtowns and city centers. Here the environment is often human scale and has grown organically, meaning that people can live comfortably in such locations. When people are able to shop, work, live and play in a central location, quality of life improves and happiness improves. Over the decades, historic buildings and downtowns have been neglected, forgotten and eventually reinvigorated. Interest in reinventing the existing built environment continues to grow as people find value in the well built historic buildings and locations.

Why does historic preservation help the economy? Many of the reasons relate to the sustainability of working within the built environment, and the fact that historic preservation is sustainable development. Donovan Rypkema, of Place Economics, speaks best to this subject: read one of his presentations here.

In brief, historic preservation is good for your economy because it brings businesses to your community and creates cultural and economic life. Historic preservation work offers tax credits. Historic preservation is sustainable, and thus, a good financial, economic decision. Historic preservation creates jobs. Historic preservation creates heritage tourism, which brings revenue to your community. Here’s a brief fact sheet from the Georgia Trust. And here are economic studies provided by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

This topic can and should continue in greater depth, but it’s important to know that historic preservation is entirely related to economics, and therefore applicable to all of us. It’s good for you and your community.

Preservation works. Preservation makes cents (pun intended). Preservation is good for your economy.