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Wi-Fi is the Free Parking of the Coffee World

When it comes to Wi-Fi in coffee shops, I've had a pretty strong shift in opinion over the past few years. If you can remember, this blog used to be written entirely from a single coffee shop in Cleveland.

During that time I spent a lot time in that coffee shop. I made friends with many of the baristas. I made friends with the owners. And I spent a lot of money. A friend of the blog calculated  that I was on pace to spend over a thousand dollars at that coffee shop by the end of the year, and I was fine with that, because it was my favorite local business. If that shop hadn't been friendly to me bringing my laptop into the store, I still would have gone their occasionally, but would have stuck to making most of my coffee at home.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

The reason my opinion has changed is because my environment has changed. Coffee shops in DC tend to be busy, crowded, and because of high rents, they can't afford big swaths of open space for dozens of tables and couches and fireplaces everything else. It's simply not comfortable to bring a laptop into many of the local coffee houses.

I can sympathize with the guys who run Filter and Qualia and who don't want to offer Wi-Fi all the time or even at all. You should really listen to their take on this issue over on the Kojo Show. While the people upset with their decision may shout the loudest, I suspect that there are a lot of people who agree with the owners.

In a way, free Wi-Fi is like free parking. Sometimes it makes sense for businesses , because it's a means to get people in the door. Sometimes if you don't have Wi-Fi (or parking) some customers will go elsewhere. But in a big major city, seats in coffee shops (and free parking spaces) are in short supply and high demand. Having a few seats (or parking spaces) that a small number of people hog all day long simply doesn't make any sense. It doesn't matter if free Wi-Fi (or parking) is what people are used to. This is just the new reality.

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