Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Update on Iben Gvirol and The Coffee Bean Closure

At ''The Gregg Cafe'' in Dizengoff center, the manager's dog has it's own ''personal'' table. Not a common and acceptable practice, it is still telling of the informal feel of Israeli cafes. Not so with ''The Coffee Bean'' and regular laptop workers in 2009 / © 2010

About a year ago bloggers in Israel made some noise about working in cafes. They were grumbling about cafes being hostile toward people who sat and worked using laptops. Some cafes at the time did not offer free WiFi or did not have AC plugs to connect laptops power supplies. Tel Avivians love their cafes and to some it is their living room and office apartment extensions. A virtual (or actually real?) home-office away from home. In central Tel Aviv, where apartment prices are beyond belief, many people live in tiny apartments. Some work from home, that means sometimes working from the local cafe when they meet customers or clients. The American coffee chain " The Coffee Bean (& Tea Leaf)" had a nice big cafe on Iben Gvirol in front of Gan Ha'ir commercial complex. I wrote about The Coffee Bean's up and down policy toward laptop users. Around 2008 the Israeli high-tech sector collapsed. No new investment in start-ups caused companies to lay off thousands of workers. These were software engineers and professional support workers (salesman and marketers, human resource, administrators) as well as related professionals.

The Coffee Bean first went all out to accommodate laptop toting customers. Besides the free WiFi connection, they also offered AC plugs. At one time they were going to install a printer which you could use for a small fee. But somewhere around 2009 all this stopped. Apparently a few customers made The Coffee Bean their permanent office away from home. One guy actually brought in a keyboard and even a printed at one time. Another was a permanent fixture to such a point where he had "his own" table. While cafes are usually an informal place to go, there are limits, especially in Tel Aviv. For the most part people are well dressed and well behaved. Once in a while you get an excited loud customer, but that evokes a few stares from adjacent tables and the peace and calm is restored. Some cafes have a quiet feel, here is a place to catch a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes reading. For the most part, people do not come to cafes to talk on the phone. If you are having a meeting, it is usually between two to four people and is quiet. If you are not doing it all the time and are not hogging a table beyond the time that makes sense, everything is fine.

I am saddened to see The Coffee Bean gone. Hopefully another coffee chain will take over the place and keep the large space open as it was before. But in reality, this section of Iben Gvirol does not need another cafe. There are plenty of them just a few steps away. Life goes on as normal, a few changes here and there. Maybe this is a good lesson in commerce and change. Technology is going to change our lives no matter what we do. So changes are going to ripple into the way we work and live. Some people will benefit some will suffer. Laptops, WiFi, Netbooks and now tablet computers are making our office work portable. Now it's time for the rest of the world to catch up with our portable offices. Is this happening in your city? What is it like in the US and Europe? It will be interesting to compare business and consumer reactions.

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