Towards a Wireless City *UPDATED WITH MAP*
SEE OUR CHALLENGE BELOW – TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE WIRELESS CAFE HOTSPOT!
I am one of those people who works better when I have a din of white noise behind me, when I’m in a place with a good feel, surrounded by people but not in demand. For me, coffee and good work go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have spent the majority of my university years (both undergrad and post-grad) doing my studying and schoolwork in coffee shops.
When I lived at SFU, I was able to give my business to the locally owned SFU institution Renaissance Coffee and the new organic sustainably-minded joint, Nature’s Garden Organic Deli run by SFU alumni Bill and Doris. What I loved about these places is that they had free wireless internet for patrons, good seating for using a computer, and a friendly atmosphere. Though the food at Renaissance wasn’t my favourite, and their “organic-ness” is in dispute, they were open the latest of the on-campus coffee places and their internet was provided through the SFU wireless system. Nature’s Garden had great organic food, cheap coffee and nice people. In a pinch, I’d frequent the Starbucks at Kensington and Hastings which featured a long study table with several outlets, strong fast internet access (at a steep price), and great white noise.
Now that I live off campus and am a working professional, I still enjoy a good wireless cafe for those times that I’m blogging at T2F or Disadventure, or for when I’m finishing up my thesis work. However, when I’m in New West visiting Will and Briana (also T2F creators), there are no good wireless cafes to go to if you want to support local business.
Now some of you would argue this, citing Blenz at 6th and 6th (a Canadian franchise) which provides free wireless to customers but has no outlets available, and the six Starbucks locations all over the city, which provide wireless internet free for two hours with a valid starbucks card code. However – given this city’s many students, the popular coffee culture, and the increasing popularity and dependence on wireless internet devices, if a New West native like me is unable to identify a good, locally owned wireless internet cafe, I think there aren’t enough to meet the demand. Even the amazing former Yaletownish eatery in New West’s Uptown, The Orange Room, had no internet access for patrons.
Two wireless cafe-finding resources, notably Vancouver.wifimug.org (a user-generated index of wireless cafes in Greater Vancouver that has sadly fallen far out of date) and nodeDB.com show no updated listings of New West wireless cafes. If a student, person traveling on business, or any of the growing throng of Blackberry and iPhone users travelled through New West, they’d find no convenient, social place to connect – either to the internet or to other people. For those who are unfamiliar, let me let you in on the culture of wireless internet that seems to have changed our society: I believe that this lack of connection makes a lasting statement about our community to visitors and residents alike that we are stuck, isolated and unconnected. Sure, that might be dramatic, but New West is perpetually on the precipice of transformation from one-trick ‘historic town’ pony to a multi-dimensional, multi-generational dynamic city. So you say New Westminster is a historic little town which isn’t trying to be the next Silicon Valley – I say check out touristy and historic litle LaConner (with less than 1000 municipal citizens) where my parents live, provides wireless internet to downtown visitors and residents free of charge. The signal in the streets is strong enough to check your e-mail, but step into your favourite bookstore/cafe where they provide broadband wireless and power outlets so you can stop for a bite, a book, and a browse on the internet if you need it.
I greatly appreciate the cafes without plugs or wireless internet, so I can sit and chat with my friends and enjoy the time spent in a nice social environment. But I assure you, it’s not those cafes I keep an index of in my head – it’s the cafes with a strong wireless signal, at least one accessible power outlet, and a reasonable coffee environment that I remember. Since wireless internet became widely available (and as cheap as a one-time $90 wireless router and broadband access at $40/month), many have remarked how wireless internet has improved business for coffee shops and bookstores, even giving them an edge over the big-chain franchises like Starbucks and McDonalds, who charge for internet usage.
“For me, it’s about creating a coffeehouse experience that’s relevant to my customers,” says Jody Hall, who opened Verité Coffee in Madrona six month ago with free Wi-Fi in mind. She estimates that an average of 25 to 30 customers use the service daily. “In today’s culture, wireless is part of our daily lives. I want our coffeehouse to be a place people meet and gather, and if that’s something they need for their meeting, then I want to have that.”
“What it did for us initially was get the word out about us quickly,” says Michael Prins, owner of Herkimer Coffee, which opened with Wi-Fi available a year ago.
“I think it is a big draw,” says Anya Webb, owner of Fremont Coffee. She suspects she’s stealing at least a little bit of business from the Caffe Ladro across the street (where the Wi-Fi is not free). “It brings people in.”
There is one main reason that many cafes provide only a signal and not appropriate seating or power outlets – they need or want to limit the number of people like me, who occupy seating for paying customers while using up the internet. However, I encourage the locally-owned coffee shops in New West to reconsider providing free internet access to patrons as part of their business model – both to present a connected, dynamic face to the customer, and also to give them a leg up on the big-chain opposition, making local business ultimately more successful. It’s completely fair game to restrict the signal to paying customers (as Blenz does) to ensure your signal brings the return it is supposed to. Another approach for small cafes is to post signage reserving some seating for non-computer customers during peak hours to ensure seating is available for the non-career internet users in the cafe.
Here’s my standard for a “good” wireless cafe:
- appropriate seating, including chairs and tables or bar-height chairs and counters
- a strong, uncomplicated wireless signal (password or not)
- 1-2 accessible power outlets.
Wireless Internet Cafes in New West:
- Blenz Coffee: 6th and 6th (Uptown): Wireless signal; password protected for customers only; plenty of seating but no power outlets
- Starbucks Coffee (Multiple Locations: Westminster Centre on 6th Street; E. Columbia & Sherbrooke; Columbia & 6th Ave*; McBride Blvd & 8th Ave. See also Burnaby Crossing, at 10th Ave & 6th Street) Limited/Pay Usage only. Westminster Centre, Royal Square have no power outlets; E.Columbia & Sherbrooke, 6th & Columbia have one or more outlets available. Columbia and 6th Ave’s internet has not been working for the last month. December 2008.
Sounds Promising (listings unverified):
- The Hide Out Cafe: 716 Carnarvon Street (Downtown). Cafe, deli, organic & internet access.
Other free wireless internet sources in New West:
- The New Westminster Public Library (6th Avenue at 7th Street) Wireless Internet access is governed by the library’s Internet Access Policy, and is available throughout the building. A table is reserved for laptop users requiring cable internet access, with 4 ethernet cables and power outlets. Ten study carrels are also equipped with power outlets.
What do you think? Share with us your favourite places to chill out and plug in. What do you think about wi-fi users in public cafes? Help T2F assemble an up-to-date list of wireless cafes in New Westminster.
Here’s a map of wireless internet locations so far: