Starbucks just announced that it will have free wifi on its own internal network staring July 1. In this, finally, Starbucks is becoming what it had the potential to do, but almost missed. I have been a fan of Starbucks for the past three or four years now, and although I don't do a daily run, I always know it's there - an oasis of the business and chatting classes from coast to coast. Even in West Virginia.
I have also observed over the years something that started as a Los Angeles institution become something of a nationwide phenomenon. That something was Tam's Bookstore.
Tam's was the bookstore on Jefferson Boulevard that was more than just a stationery store, more than just a bookstore. It was a college hangout just across the street from USC and a place where people who put together this and that artisitic project could be found. Pops used to go to Tam's on the regular. I think of Tam's and Silvertone, the old photo processing lab for top black & white reproductions, in the same artistic breath. People forget that access to a Xerox machine was not as democratic in the 70s as in the 80s. Desktop publishing didn't exist in the heyday of Tam's.
Tam's became legend and legend invited competition. That competition was Kinko's, and soon there were Kinko's stores near every college campus. And for the millions of us who could not afford a computer *and* a printer, we went there for our flyers and term papers, resumes and presentations. Do you remember overhead projectors? Of course you do.
Kinkos scaled up nationally and then was purchased by FedEx in the era of the fax machine and the color copier.
It doesn't surprise me that FedEx is not interesting in shipping bits. They have their hands full with freight, parcels and mail. But it seems to me that Kinkos has got to be a little bit too heavy. There was a time when I might go into a Kinkos to hang out but that time has passed. I don't need a heavy duty PC with Photoshop to blow up my JPGs and print on a color machine. That's all affordable at home.
So when I went the other day and found myself among the pay per use workstations and copy machines, I thought about how long it has been since this technology was rare and you needed to go to a Kinkos because your small business or office didn't have the machinery.
Enter Starbucks. Sure yuppies like me use the place for chilling, and we use it as a pre-sales meeting when we're about to make a sales call in a different city. No longer do we use those office suites right near the airport (remember those?). Starbucks, Borders and Barnes have changed the complexion of brainy socializing. This is all good.
There's another joint which is on the rise and may happen out here on the West Coast but hasn't yet. That's Cosi. There are only two in Southern California but they dot cities in the East like Philly and DC. Cosi is a lot more food oriented and social than Starbucks. Cosi expects you to eat healthy and lounge around socially. It's a distinctly more cushy atmosphere than the more clinically clean Starbucks with its hard tables and chairs.
I should also mention Chipotle, which has got its industrial game on full tilt. The model Chipotle for me is the one at Dulles' Terminal B. But they are still behind the curve for Wifi. The new smartphones cry out for it - forget laptops. Think iPads and Android phones.
FedexOffice is going to lose a lot of foot traffic. It's walking over to more comfortable places to hang out and do business.