I used to jokingly refer to Charmington‘s, a charming new(ish) coffee shop between Charles Village and Remington, as my office. It’s got big windows, good coffee, and a good circulation of friends stopping by to say hello. It also has all the wireless internet my heart could desire — that is, until last week when they instituted a recent policy where they cut the wifi from 11am-2pm.
Before anyone grumbles at me, I should say that I understand the rationale – it’s important to keep tables open for lunch customers, and some of us laptop-laden workers think we’re entitled to hunker down at a table for hours because we’ve bought a $1.50 coffee. It would be a fine policy, if there were other options — but Baltimore is kind of an internet wasteland. And it has the potential to destroy our economy.
(Don’t believe me? Well, a list: Carma’s in Charles Village has great coffee and soup but no wifi; the nearby Starbucks does, but you have to pay. In Hampden, Common Ground is wifi-free; Spro is, too, ostensibly — though in the front room you can poach an open signal, but who knows how long that will last. The Hampden public library doesn’t have wireless, either. Usually if I’m in the neighborhood and need to do some internet work, I just go to my friends’ house.)
But this isn’t just about me and my selfish desire to check my email while sipping a latte; coffee shops may actually be vital to Baltimore’s very survival. Richard Florida coined the term “creative class” to refer to the artists, graphic designers, tech workers, and other “high bohemian” types who, he theorizes, will drive the economy of successful cities of the future. Austin, Portland, San Francisco: these places attract the kind of people that Florida’s talking about. And they all famously have vibrant coffee shop cultures. If Baltimore is serious about wanting to attract creative types, we need to figure out where they’ll get their work done.
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