Tess Vigeland: Walk into most coffee shops these days and, well, it’s not really about the coffee anymore, is it? It’s about the tap-tap-tap of laptop keyboards. That goes double and triple — latte? — in college towns, where students and professors hang out for hours, hunched over their computers, nursing a lone cup.
So in New Haven, Conn., coffee house owner Lulu DeCarrone did something daring a few years back: She pulled the plug.
LuLu DeCarrone: Hi, who can I help?
Man: I’ll have a coffee and a whole-grain bagel.
Worker: Small, medium or large.
DeCarrone: I’m Lulu DeCarrone and we are in New Haven. I own this little coffee shop that I’ve had for 21 years.
It happened around three or four years ago. One afternoon, I was standing behind the counter and I allowed laptops for a while. And there were four tables, and four people sitting with laptops there. And I remember thinking, “This is like a crypt. I don’t like the feel of it.” Well, two ladies came in a little bit later and they were having such a good time. They were old friends, they haven’t seen each other in a long time and they were laughing and just carrying on. And the people who were sitting on the laptops kept glaring at them. And I made the decision right then and there. I thought I would rather lose my business and sell pencils out of a hat in front of the British Art Museum, than have this atmosphere in my store.
I don’t think people realize the damage they do economically by taking up a whole table for so long and being forced sometimes to buy something.
DeCarrone to customers: Hey guys! How are you?
I thought, “Oh my God, maybe no one will come. Maybe I’ll lose it.” And I swear to you, that I was willing to do that. But it worked in reverse. I am the absolute opposite of what Starbucks does, and I’m very happy about it.
It’s become like Mecca for people who are disgusted. I never expected this. This has blown my mind; I never thought that would happen. I get compliments every single day. So I think that’s what it’s given me: Not a big bank account, certainly not driving a fancy car — but it has given me something that’s much harder to get, joy.
Lulu DeCarrone: Coffeehouse owner Lulu DeCarrone.