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Coffee Shop Squatters

When I go onto Google Maps and type "coffee shop near my location" about half of the results are for places that no longer exist. On top of the fact that Starbucks keeps closing their stores, I'm led to believe that the half-life of a typical coffee shop is actually not very long.

I've heard it argued that coffee shop squatters are to blame. You know, the people who buy a coffee and then sit and read a magazine or surf the web for the next few hours... Admittedly, I'm guilty of being a coffee shop squatter. I'm writing this very post from my favorite coffee shop. I do it because it's so easy, and because sometimes I enjoy drinking a hot cup of coffee out in a public space more than in my own kitchen.

I have to question this theory on the grounds that many coffee shops actively encourage squatting. My favorite coffee shop, for example, has free wifi and power strips which allow more people to plug in laptops. On Wednesday evening there is open mic night and on weekends they often have acoustic musicians. All of these things encourage people to buy a coffee and stay for a while. And the coffee shop could at any time take all of them away.

I also question the assumption that a full coffee shop is bad for business. Psychologically, people like to patronize businesses that seem to be doing well. Having every seat in the room filled might actually help boost a coffee shop's take-out business.

Lastly, I think the situation is partially location-dependent. Where I live, retail space is cheap and population density is relatively low. I can imagine coffee shops in Manhattan having trouble with too many people trying to free ride on a single cup of coffee, but in a lot of places, I don't think it's as big of a concern.


austin said…
It's not like there is limited seating and these squatters are preventing people from coming in. They probably help business at places like Starbucks or Phoenix, since they attract attention to the store.
Kyle said…
Agreed, I can't think of many compelling scenarios where squatting would noticeably hurt business. Personally, the only reason I buy coffee in coffee shops is so that I *can* "squat" there. If coffee shops weren't designed in such a way that squatting were both possible and encouraged, I'd just make my own coffee instead. The environment of the coffee shop is what draws my business. I don't know whether I represent a large section of the coffee-drinking population or not.
Anonymous said…
Rob, who exactly is blaming the squatters? I'm with you and the other commenters--squatting just isn't a negative factor if the joint isn't full.

Also, I haven't had a lot of coffee shops close on me. I'm sort of a regular at Lucky's, Gypsy Bean, and one or two Phoenix locations. They're all still there. Where have you been going? And why are they not making it?
Rob Pitingolo said…
Kyle, to expand on what you've said... there are two distinct times when I buy brewed coffee at a coffee shop. The first is when, like yourself, I want to drink my coffee and hang out in the coffee shop. The other time, typically in the morning, is when I'm at work, since the only coffee I can get at the office is about as terrible as it gets. So I'm both a take-out customer and a squatter, depending on the time of day.

catfood, the suburb where I grew up (Euclid) has been plagued with coffee shops coming and going for years. In a single location there were three different owners who gave the coffee shop business a try - all of them failed. Now the space is vacant again. Even the original Phoenix location on Superior closed up last year.
B. P. Beckley said…
Well, I think a full coffee shop is good for business only if those people are actually drinking coffee and/or are going to leave before long. A room full of happy people who aren't buying anything isn't a big plus from a business owner's perspective. Yeah, they attract other customers, but what's the point if they can't actually get in?

I have to agree though that this only seems like a real problem if the place is in fact full or nearly full and people might be turning away.

I can picture a coffee shop owner wistfully imagining that guy with the laptop taking up a table all afternoon being replaced by a whole series of groups of four all of whom buy food and/or drink and then leave...

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