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Free Wi-Fi ups coffee shops’ popularity

October 10, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I wrote this story for my news writing (JMC 301) class. It was published in the Oct. 6 edition of The State Press. I have reposted it in full for the benefit of blind readers, who may find this copy easier to access

Photo caption:

surfing the web: ASU sophomore Michael Robinson takes advantage of the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks Monday night. He said he often comes after work to meet friends or study. (scott stuk | The State Press)

By: Darrell Shandrow

Published On: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Many Tempe coffee shop customers said free wireless Internet access adds an important dimension to their experience, and shop owners are delighted by the increased business.

Margie Derwin, owner of Margie’s Coffee House just west of South Hardy Drive on West Broadway Road in Tempe, said she added free Wi-Fi shortly after her shop’s April grand opening and has never looked back.

The business generated by customers who use the free Internet connection is well worth the $80 monthly price tag, Derwin said.

“A lot of people come in here and ask if we have Wi-Fi,” said Derwin. “They’re either students wanting to study or businesspeople who need to work. They need to get to the Internet.”

Psychology senior Lauren Watson prefers shops that help her go online and study.

“I’m much more likely to frequent a coffee shop if it has wireless Internet available,” Watson said. “Most of the stuff I have to do is online, either through Blackboard or other sites where I need to look up information.”

Watson is not alone. According to a September 2008 survey released by standards-setting organization Wi-Fi Alliance, 52 percent of undergraduate college students said the availability of wireless Internet connectivity affects their coffee shop choice.

Amir Dabir, a tourist attending a conference in Phoenix, frequents coffee shops regularly. He said shops get more of his business when they offer free Wi-Fi.

“I like to drink coffee, answer e-mails and be able to enjoy myself online while I’m at the coffee shop,” Dabir said as he waited to meet a friend at Cupz Coffee on South College Avenue, just north of the Tempe campus.

Dabir said he appreciates a shop with a free, reliable wireless connection.

“If it doesn’t have free Wi-Fi, I wouldn’t sit around and do work,” he said. “I’d just basically get my coffee and leave.”

Hannah Baldwin, wildlife biology junior and a barista at Xtreme Bean on East Southern Avenue in Tempe, said students spend an average of two to three hours in the coffee shop when they go online.

“Just looking around, you can see pretty much half the people with their laptops,” she said.

Many of the students who go online at the store are also socializing or participating in study groups, Baldwin said.

“We have some students we see come in midday and they don’t leave until we close,” Baldwin said. “Everyone who comes in grabs a coffee and they sit down and it’s totally fine. It’s a good atmosphere.”

The ambience of a coffee shop is almost as important is whether it has Wi-Fi, Watson said.

“The atmosphere has a lot to do with it, of course,” she said. “I’m looking for one that’s friendly but individual, where it’s quiet enough so you can be on your own if you need to, or you can start a conversation with a stranger.”

Derwin said she aims to please with her shop’s fast, reliable Wi-Fi connections and calm, friendly atmosphere.

“I get a handful of serious students who come in here and want to find a place to study,” said Derwin. “I like the home-away-from-home feeling. I want people to feel like they’re at home. We’re just relaxing. There’s no stress. We’re just being friendly.”

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