In Search of the Water Cooler


By Dennis Rodkin

It's a hot, humid afternoon, and educational consultant Phyllis Henry is camped out at a big round table at the Kinko's store in Lincolnwood, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. Henry has a rush project to get out, so she's been here since yesterday, copying and sorting the various stacks of paper arrayed on the tabletop alongside her can of Diet Coke and a list of what's left to do.

All around Henry are fellow homebased entrepreneurs and others who've come in to use the copying equipment, schedule large copying jobs, or even pick up a bagel at the World Cafe, a snack bar tucked into one corner of the 5,270-square-foot store. At one color copier stands a graphic designer who's making draft prints of color photos she'll use in a client's annual report. At a black-and-white copier, two business owners are proofreading the 45 pages they have 10 minutes to copy and sort. An accountant feeds a copy machine with one hand and entertains her 18-month-old son with the other. Another half-dozen people are at the full-service counter ordering and picking up duplicating jobs. "It seems pretty busy in here right now," Henry says. "Ordinarily, I come in very late at night, when I have all the machines to myself. But today I've got this deadline."

Henry's not the only one in a hurry here today. Apparently, everybody is double-parked and doing double time to get the work done. When they stop at the World Cafe, it's not to put their feet up and spin big dreams for their businesses--it's to gulp down a bite between this stop and the next. "The people we get coming through here are mostly very busy homebased businesspeople," says manager Lisa Stiotti. They are often so crunched for time that employees might recognize their faces or know their names, but they're rarely able to find out much more. Networking and idle talk are kept to a minimum by the fast pace.

Over in the self-service computer and typewriter room, Andrzej Wojnar says he appreciates the streamlined setup here. As the head of a small remodeling and construction company, he drives all over Chicago to clients' homes and offices, and often needs to stop during the day to type up or change a contract or estimate. He watches for a Kinko's sign, knowing he can get in and do what he has to do without a lot of interruptions slowing him down. "People aren't going to bother you," Wojnar says. "They just want to help you get finished and get going."

Dennis Rodkin is a homebased journalist who lives six minutes and 30 seconds from the Highland Park, Illinois, Kinko's.

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