Thursday, April 16, 2009

Y So Wifiless

I realize that, in terms of recent entries on here, I'm jumping in chronology a bit by talking about something that just happened, like a topic that I'm still in the process of relieving the resulting back tension from. But I feel it is vital, and urgent, and vitally urgent, that I allow the universal governing force, GodBuddhaStalinBono,to use me as its mouthpiece and speak out on the single biggest plague facing New York right now...


Not to turn into Jerry Seinfeld (but, I mean, really, fuck is the deal with airline food, for real?) here, but this is the third consecutive time I've had to claw, kick, bite and spit in Manhattan to sit down in a cafe, open my laptop and get any sort of work done. I genuinely don't understand what the hell New York freelancers do with their days, but I guarantee you one thing: my ventures into the coffee wilderness here have yielded nothing but shoulders rubbed raw from my laptop back, fractured emotional nerves and weird debit card charges from my assuming a cafe has wi-fi, buying a latte and then tossing it only to find out that I have to trudge on to another coffeeshop because the one I'm at has no public internet. I then, at the next stop on my "tour of indie coffee places", buy ANOTHER latte (since I wouldn't DARE enter one indie with another's beverage), sit at a table and find the exact same problem-no wifi.

Eventually, I just end up at Starbucks. I've actually upped my T-Mobile/Blackberry plan to include a monthly T-Mobile HotSpot plan since this eventual Evil Coffee Empire endpoint seems unavoidable, and, frankly, I've lost too many potentially productive days to inept New York coffee shops.

Yup, inept. Sorry. In this economy (oh my god he said the phrase!), any independent of any breed whatsoever needs support. I'll agree with that. But they also need to, regardless of what type of store it is-sporting goods, books, coffee, cream cheese sculpture-foster a sense of community. This is something my initial read on New York had me praising. The neighborhood bar that my friend with whom I'm currently staying took me to in Astoria had wifi.

A bar! With wifi! Where I come from (Y'allsville Cornbreadnation, I mean, erm, Atlanta), that's unheard of. "What community", I thought. "What a fostering of brand loyalty in what's truly the global economy that's contained within New York."

Yeah, calling bullshit on myself for that one. I think I spoke too soon.

Every indie coffeeshop in New York that doesn't have WiFi is begging for the steamroller of Starbucks to come through and crush it. For everyone one B Cup Cafe that I've found, where I'm invited in, given a slip of paper with the WiFi password and thusly positioned myself to stay a few hours (spending money as I do so), there are a billion others-every other one, really, that I've encountered-where this simple acknowledgement of what the cafe/coffeeshop/whateveryoucall it is at this moment in time-less a venue for the "perfect cup of coffee" and more a thirdspace. Not work, not home, but a location away from either and made to feel reminiscent of both and oh, shit, I just regurgitated Starbucks' marketing material, didn't I?

Hm. Food for thought, innit?

All I know is this: when Wordsmiths, which never in its time actually achieved the cafe that it wanted (and perhaps that could have changed things, perhaps not), was in the initial planning stages, there was never even a question that part of its commitment to community-building and relationship-fostering would necessitate wifi and comfortable seating. This "get the hell in and get the hell out" attitude that seems pervasive of so many independent coffee shops, restaurants and, sadly, bookstores (I can name one book store specifically, in Atlanta, that is the single least-friendly establishment ever created, ever, like the Roman Coliseum was more hospitable) right now signals to me that this idea of community is falling by the indie wayside into the gutter, to be picked up and capitalized on by those who pay attention. Unfortunately, most of those who are paying attention in my field of vision are the Starbucks, the McDonalds (they all have free wifi), the Popeyes Chicken (ditto). In the words of the great 12th Century metallurgist and poet James Hetfield, "it's sad but true".

So, c'mon, indie coffee joints, step your game up. You can justify, as one of my favorite indie coffee places in New York that actually doesn't have wifi but that does have cupcakes provided by the comedienne who is unaware that I've adopted her as my mother does, that to invoke the beckoning call of "free wireless internet" would only encourage customers to camp out all day (some not actually ever even engaging in the act of commerce with the establishment, thus not really counting as a "customer" at all). I can understand that logic, I can. For the record, every venue I plop myself to pilfer the wireless net-tubes gets some of my hard-earned government-provided unemployment check, because, well, I've been on the side of the indies. I cried at the loss of an indie that put my blood, sweat and tears into. I root for the underdog. And, well, I'm a socialist.

But Jesus H Christonacross, do you really think that "oh, people might come and stay" is a valid point for not providing a service? Also, do I have to illustrate what seems painfully obvious to capitalist me-the longer people stay, the more they will either need more of or may possibly need for the first time the goods you purvey. Isn't making a first-time customer of someone who's taken up nothing but ass-space and oxygen in your establishment (and the potential of repeat business and brand loyalty from said ass-space-taker) better than never having that person come in?

I don't know. I can't answer that question. I do know this, though: until a bunch indie coffee places wise up like that Aimee Mann song, I'm going to be seeing this a lot more:

Starbucks. Third Place. Wifi. Loyalty. There's a lesson in business to be learned there.


Bookavore said...

Greenpoint Coffee House, a few blocks up the street from WORD, has free wifi. The food is hit-or-miss but the drinks are dependable. Not too crowded during the week, either. I'm pretty sure Brooklyn Label has free wifi too. Greenpoint FTW!

Anonymous said...

i'm gonna go ahead and say it.


Anonymous said...

Everyone in NYC has an iPhone and 3G. Who needs Wifi? ;)

Erica B said...

yup, brooklyn label has their wifi password on every receipt. but greenpoint isn't that great for wifi on weekends, which is when i need it. both bl and greenpoint coffee house are packed with people having brunch. the only solution is ashbox on manhattan between ash and box. free wifi and never crowded.