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The Double-Edged Sword of Coffee-Shop Wi-Fi

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As work-from-home types ourselves, we've long been fans of working from coffee shops, which allow us to get out of our homes (and our heads) while keeping up with work on our laptops. (Here's a list of some great ones.) But wi-fi capabilities are an understandable double-edged sword for many cafe owners: while they draw in extra business, they can also mean laptop-toting hordes occupying tables for hours, without shelling out enough cash to merit their tenure. The Chron examined the phenomenon in depth this weekend, focusing on Coffee Bar in the Mission, a noted freelancer haven whose 65 seats are often packed with workers clacking away—making it tough for local office types to get a table when they want to eat lunch. Owner Luigi di Ruocco's solution was to institute 20 laptop-free seats from noon to 2 pm, which have a 30-minute time limit. Sales have increased nearly 20 percent, and in di Ruocco's words, "We unclogged the clog."

While some cafes proudly don't offer any wi-fi at all (Four Barrel Coffee/The Mill, all of The Grove's locations) most of them need it to compete with Starbucks' ubiquitous access—even historic Caffe Trieste in North Beach had to cave from its Internet-holdout status couple of years back. "We were the last ones to go Wi-Fi, but we were losing business, so we had to do it," roastmaster Paul Bracco told the Chron.

But while many coffee shops decry their Internet-hungry, space-hogging patrons, one Oakland entrepreneur is actively trying to court them. As the East Bay Express reports, Dominick Scala, a bartender and writer in Oakland, is planning to open Cafe Underwood, a cafe that's designed to attract telecommuting workers. He's making it happen by creating two separate spaces: a wine and beer garden for those who want to lunch and chat, and a more work-oriented interior with plenty of outlets, coffee, and of course, wireless Internet. Cafe Underwood will even have "phone booths" in back for taking work calls without disturbing neighbors, and a rentable conference room upstairs. Bar Dogwood and Stag's Lunchette owner Alexeis Filipello consulted on Italian-inflected food offerings like eggplant parmesan and sausage and peppers. An Indiegogo campaign will launch for the project next week, and Scala hopes to open it up in February.

· Coffee shops limit perks to move Wi-Fi squatters [Chron]
· A New-School Wi-Fi Cafe [EBX]
· The Ultimate Free Wi-Fi Finder: SF's Best Internet Cafes [~ ESF ~]

Coffee Bar

1890 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 415 551 8100

Cafe Underwood

308 41st St., Oakland, CA