Coffeehouse Culture: an uncommon economic indicator — maybe

by Sandy Ikeda

I’ve noticed in the past 6 months or so that it’s been getting harder even on weekdays to find a seat at my preferred local coffeehouse (aka “the office”), and much too frequently lately I’ve had to bail to my second choice, which very often is also full. It’s not the cold weather because the crowding these days is a lot worse than in winters past. My wife suggests it’s the recession, with the growing reserve army of the unemployed – who in my nabe would mostly have worked on Wall Street – choosing to spend its time sipping joe in public than at home. Sounds plausible, but I’m too timid to ask anyone straight out if they’re there because they lost their job.

Anyway, just another, admittedly trivial, reason to hope this recession ends quickly. (But it won’t – not for another two years, I think, when inflation will be double-digit.)

6 thoughts on “Coffeehouse Culture: an uncommon economic indicator — maybe

  1. I would ask, strike up a conversation with someone. You may be surprised to see others are there for the same reason and just looking for someone to talk to. It’s also a great way to network with others.
    Since I’ve been laid off I’ve taken online classes. This way I can take my laptop to anyplace with WiFi and do my lessons there. Give me something to do and a place to go.

  2. One of the things that has always puzzled me is this: why is it much more difficult to strike up a conversation in a coffeehouse than a bar or during coffee breaks at conferences? Is it because so many people go to coffeehouses to read and/or work? Is it because cafes offer “optimal distraction” unlike libraries (too little) or bars (too much).Otherwise, coffee shops would seem ideal meeting places for people who want to engage in open but sober conversation. I sense opportunities for product differentiation in this context.

  3. Although I can’t really speak for Bogdan Enache, he might say that in various European venues you’d get a very different conversational vibe. I agree that in the US, and New York in particular, there’s a huge difference between the coffeehouse and the bar cultures. I know the former much better than the latter, and so will leave it to my vastly more experienced colleagues to weigh in here.

  4. Ask them! We’d like to know too! At WNYC, we like the term “Uncommon Economic Indicators” so much that we’ve name our online project just that.

    Visit the story archive (see url) and you’ll notice among the myriad anecdotes that there are others are noticing full cafes and full libraries! Maybe people are looking for new ways to connect in what otherwise feels like a pretty unstable time? Just a thought.


    Write to us at the Brian Lehrer Show!

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