They are called “campers.” Spending hours transfixed on laptops in comfortable chairs, buying a cup of coffee or two during their stay, are usually a quiet bunch considered the norm at coffee shops offering internet access.
That’s not the case any longer at Steve’s Espresso in Tempe, where WiFi and cushioned seating – things that give off the living room coffee shop feel – have gone by the wayside and have been replaced with wooden tables and upright chairs.
“It’s just about focusing on your business,” owner Steven Schmidt said. “A lot about what people think a coffee shop is, doesn’t make any money.”
Schmidt made the switch on both fronts in January. Under the prior model, the small amount of campers he had limited his revenue flow, he said.
“Of course I want to make more revenue. I mean, I’m in it to make money. It’s not a free service. It’s just like any business – You want to drive your revenue,” he said. And that’s what has happened; since the change, the shop has seen a double-digit increase in sales.
Schmidt knows expectations from customers often run high, and available WiFi is part of that. But Schmidt didn’t open Steve’s Espresso, located at 1801 E. Baseline Road, No. 102 -- at the southeast corner of Baseline and McClintock roads -- in 2004 as an “internet café.” He wants a community atmosphere that is measurable to European-style cafés.
He said about 60 percent of his regulars and core customers are heading to rush hour traffic as they finish their morning wake up. Customers are either congenial about his business model, who come back for more, or are upset with his choice, who never return.
“It should be because they want a really good cup of coffee – not ‘they want WiFi and will happen to get whatever I sell,’” Schmidt said. “It is funny the ones that get angry.
“And that makes me all the more confident that [that] was a correct decision to do.”
Schmidt points out that he allows lounging and would never kick out internet surfers. And if someone has mobile internet on their cell phone or other device, he welcomes the use just the same.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project, a Pew Research Center project, say 91 percent of adults in the United States have cell phones, while 56 percent own an internet-ready smartphone as of May 2013.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 2,252 adults for the project between April and May. More than 1,238 in the survey account for internet access on their cell phones and have doubled in three years, according to their findings.
The goal for the owner is providing a café service and enhancing community engagement.
Twenty-three year old habilitation provider Spencer Thorstad said the cancellation of the WiFi service in January has dealt him no frustration because he has a 3G wireless network. For Thorstad, it’s either a grab-and-go or a meet with friends at the café and bakery.
If customers long for cyber access, Schmidt noted, Peter Piper Pizza -- in the same shopping center -- and Fry's Marketplace (across the street) offer WiFi access.
“You don’t need internet to be connected,” said Chris Bassett, a retired freelance photography and current deacon at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Mesa.
Bassett said if someone has a cell phone and a network plan then they can stay connected at any time.
Bassett, who has stopped in about twice a week for the last three years, said well-known corporate coffee companies burn their grounds. Steve’s Espresso is ideal, Basset added, because he respects and supports local enterprise, plus the always-French-pressed coffee suits his palate.
Schmidt admits he never asked his customers about their thoughts on cancelling his free WiFi. In the end, he’s confident his customers come for one thing: the coffee. It hasn’t changed, and the prices haven’t either.
“It’s kind of a golden aura about the whole internet … for the last 10 years,” Schmidt said of the typical American coffee shop setting. “I think it’s maybe starting to fade.”
Corey, a junior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.