Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What New York Needs Is a Freelancer Salon

This city does not have the infrastructure to support the recent glut of mobile freelancers. There are simply too few coffeeshops with free wifi, too few solo tabletops, and way too few outlets around New York City. At 2pm on a Wednesday, I found myself having to skip from cafe to cafe, desperately searching for a nook where I could file some posts. 

I understand that, like myself, much of the city's creative underclass has turned to freelance and left their heat off in their apartments this winter, but there is no reason that one should have to spend precious time trekking to five or more coffeeshops before giving in to a wifi McDonald's. We need a place; a place that is not Starbucks or Think. Somewhere that is calm, comfortable and inspirational; we need a salon.
It would take the focused atmosphere of an Ivy League library and combine it with the furnishings of a Hungarian confectionary and the refreshments of a Mediterranean passenger ferry. Oh yes, we're talking liquor license and arancini; I am so sick of yogurt parfaits. 

Settling into the clean banquettes could be New York's young and expansive minds. Far too often, they are the ones living in hovels in Bed-Stuy, spending their days editing and twittering from the last available chair (the one right next to the bathroom) at a mega-Starbucks. The salon would hold select events, but very few and none musical; it's not the local college coffee roaster's amateur hour.

Inevitably, the salon would be something of a secret in order to keep the tourist families (the ones who drag tables together at coffeeshops as they rest from their Century 21 spree) and bums out. It should have a password (emailed monthly to members) entry and outlets galore. Patrons can fill out a simple application online and pay a monthly fee (like $20 to cover costs) and never feel harassed for staying and working six consecutive hours.

But how will it make money? By not trying to. Sadly, the world has no more Peggy Guggenheims, but a philanthropist's support would be essential for the space. A successful salon would function almost on its own; refreshments need not be expensive because so many would sell anyways, and a grateful member base could generate beneficial projects and hopefully remember the salon after achieving their goals. 

The Think Coffee on Mercer by Washington Square Park comes closest to this ideal, except that it plays really loud music and the place is always packed with NYU journalism majors who could just as easily be in the NYU library. If only Mercury Dime wasn't so diminutive. 

Starbucks' concept of being a "third place," something between work and home, doesn't work for freelancers. New York needs to foment the idea of a "free place," somewhere between home and play, where people can develop their unconventional careers and connect in person with others whom they already follow on social networks. I know I need this, and I'm pretty sure the legions of furious typists I see cowering in coffeeshop corners do too. Create the space and the creatives will come.

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