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3 On Your Side: Laptop ‘Hobos’ Taking Over Local Coffee Shops

nicole-brewer-web Nicole Brewer
Nicole Brewer joined CBS 3 and The CW Philly’s Eyewitness News tea...
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By Nicole Brewer

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If you walk into any coffee shop, you’re bound to see people with a cup of coffee, an open laptop and no intention of going anywhere soon. They’ve been nicknamed “laptop hobos.”

They surf the web for hours.

They take up tables and snake electrical cords across the floor.

“It’s embarrassing, but maybe like six hours or something,” Sara Soliman confesses about the time she has spent online in a coffee shop.

Soliman, who is a college student, appreciates the free unlimited WiFi at Saxbys in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

“It’s different than the library. It’s lively, there’s people, the coffee’s good here,” says Soliman.

Saxbys owner Larry Axelrod is happy to see his customers sign on and surf.

“So many of us are online, so many of our businesses are online, that we need to be able to check those things throughout the day, and this is just one way to do it,” says Axelrod.

But not every coffee shop or restaurant is so generous with free unlimited WiFi.

Some businesses are beginning to set limits.

“All of a sudden it kind of snowballs into, ‘I can stay here, this can actually become my office. I don’t have to pay rent anymore, this can become my free space,’” says hospitality expert Michael Oshins, when describing the attitude that some people have when it comes to free WiFi.

With limited space and a growing number of mobile devices, Old City Coffee in Philadelphia had to limit WiFi to one hour with each purchase.

Customers receive a user-name and password on their receipt in order to access the coffee shop’s internet.

“We had the shift to keep the flow of people moving through the café; it’s part of our ambience as a company,” explains Mira Treatman, who is the company’s marketing director.

“I think it’s a fair trade to purchase something,” said one Old City Coffee customer. “It’s a quiet place to work, and there’s great coffee.”

Don’t expect unlimited access at Panera either.

Corporate policy limits free WiFi to 30 minutes during lunch and dinner hours.

“So other people can come in and eat and use the tables so the WiFi users don’t overrun the tables,” says Gino Kozera Panera’s vice president of operations.

“We are laptop hobos, we are laptop hobos, most certainly,” confessed Keisha Marryshow, as she held an informal business meeting with colleagues at a Panera table in Wynnewood recently.

Marryshow believes Panera’s policy is reasonable.

“You don’t want a million people in your establishment for hours hogging up all the WiFi,” she said.

And business owners want people to remember there is internet etiquette. Users should tuck in their electrical cords and keep the volume down when surfing and sipping.

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