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updated: 7/13/2011 5:08 AM

Businesses with free Wi-Fi a haven for powerless in burbs

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  • Businessman Parker Melvin of McHenry works out of Cook Memorial Public Library in Libertyville Tuesday after thunderstorms left hundreds of thousands of customers without power.

       Businessman Parker Melvin of McHenry works out of Cook Memorial Public Library in Libertyville Tuesday after thunderstorms left hundreds of thousands of customers without power.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Businessman Parker Melvin of McHenry takes advantage of free Wi-Fi at Cook Memorial Public Library in Libertville Tuesday. Melvin is without power and is working out of the library after thunderstorms left hundreds of thousands of people without power.

       Businessman Parker Melvin of McHenry takes advantage of free Wi-Fi at Cook Memorial Public Library in Libertville Tuesday. Melvin is without power and is working out of the library after thunderstorms left hundreds of thousands of people without power.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Storm-related power outages turned libraries, coffee shops and restaurants -- anywhere with free wireless -- into havens for the self-employed and others who needed to stay connected.

Laptops and cellphones were more evident than usual Tuesday, as like-minded people across the suburbs bonded in their need to file remotely. The air conditioning felt heavenly and the coffee wasn't bad either.

Though uprooted from their routines, the public access allowed for business as usual for many in areas hard hit by outages, particularly in the North and West suburbs.

Jennifer Bulandr, director of community affairs for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, parked at the Starbuck's in Algonquin for four hours Tuesday morning.

"Everybody was there working. Everybody had laptops. There was a lot of camaraderie," she said. Because of the nature of those afflicted with pulmonary fibrosis, Bulander can't afford to be out of touch.

"I can't not answer people's email," she said. "I have people depending on information. I need to be available."

The Barrington Hills resident even ran into a neighbor, who also was working, and joked that they should carpool. Bulandr's husband, a real estate broker, took his work to the library in Barrington.

At Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville, the public access computer stations were filled and laptops populated tables nearby.

Parker Melvin, a sales rep for a marketing and promotional firm, was without power at his home office in McHenry. He decided to avoid the 82-degree swelter in his home and opted for air conditioning Monday night at a friend's home in Libertyville. No Internet connection, however.

He went to Caribou coffee first thing Tuesday to work and switched to the library.

"I'm catching up on email and I have a price quote to get out to a customer," Melvin said. "I have to get online and access my company's database."

A few tables away, Kevin Donovan, director of national accounts for Saputo Cheese USA was reading email and connecting to the company's server. He said he wasn't sure if the home office in Lincolnshire would lose power so it was easier to hit the library. His home in the northwest Libertyville lost power Tuesday morning so he brought his wife, Mary and daughter, Bailey along.

"This is like the third time this summer," the power went out, he said. "The first thing I think of is to call the library and see if they're open."

Because he is often on the road, Donovan is used to working remotely.

"It's just normal stuff. With a cellphone and a wireless connection you're good to go," he said. "There are a lot of other people in this room just like me."

In Wauconda, the self-employed and other work-from-home types gravitated to Honey Hill Coffee Company on Main Street, where the caffeine is accompanied by free Wi-Fi. A graphic designer, a small-business owner, an architect, and a writer were among those staring into the glow of their laptops.

Adriane Joyner estimated business was up threefold this week, with some 80 laptop-toting customers dropping by since the storm to plug in.

"If only I could figure out how to shut off power to Wauconda once a week," she said.

Daily Herald staff writers John Kelly and Samantha Bilharz contributed to this report

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