Coffee shop ‘campers’ steam up some local business higher-ups

Justin Horwath

They can be seen clicking away on their laptops or nestling their noses in books and papers in coffee shops around campus, but a few business owners consider the hours they log excessive.

Caribou Coffee store manager Michael Robideau knows them as “campers” – the type that will lug their office to one of the couches or tables at his store off Huron Boulevard, and set up camp for several hours.

But Robideau doesn’t consider them to be a problem, as long as they purchase something from his store.

“If they’re quiet and everything, it doesn’t faze me as bad,” he said.

Not so for Toby Mroczek, operation manager of Espresso Exposé, who said he noticed people setting up shop in his Washington Avenue business when the trend of wireless Internet in coffee shops began three or four years ago.

Mroczek said loiterers sometimes deter potential customers from coming into his business.

“People just stop coming here because they don’t have a place to sit,” he said.

Mroczek also said he sometimes notices people coming to Espresso Exposé without purchasing anything, or loaded with outside food.

“Would you ever go to a McDonald’s and sit down with a Burger King?” he said.

Mroczek is business partners with Pat Weinberg, who owns Espresso Exposé and the Purple Onion Café off University Avenue.

Mroczek said the two are considering implementing rules to ebb the number of people staying in the two shops for inordinate blocks of time.

“It’s not like you have to go out and be rude to people,” he said. “You hate to (post) signs, but nothing seems to be working.”

The Purple Onion has two signs on its doors asking people not to bring outside drinks into the establishment.

Weinberg said he is going to put up more signs in the shop; however, people camping out in his café aren’t an issue until the beginning of the regular school year.

Currently, if Mroczek sees a problem in Espresso Exposé with a customer, he asks them politely if he can get them something to drink.

Molly Underwood, a senior at St. Olaf College, lives in White Bear Lake. She drives to the University campus in the morning and then jets off to work in southern Minnesota in the afternoons.

During the in-between time, she spends a few hours at coffee shops.

“With gas prices the way they are, it doesn’t make sense for me to go home,” she said.

She said if rules get “too stringent,” coffee shops will lose business.

“I just don’t think (putting up signs) is going to work for everybody,” she said. “Some people just think the rules don’t apply.”

Dan Zielske, who owns the Dinkytown and Stadium Village locations of Espresso Royale, said the only rule in his shops is that customers need to pay for something to sit down.

“We like to let (customers) do what they want to do,” he said. “We’re selling a commodity, but it’s also a place. It’s a place to exchange ideas and meet people.”

But to Mroczek, the issue is a matter of principle.

“I don’t think that it’s a lot to ask of people,” he said.