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Customers at Honeygrow in Philadelphia can charge their cellphones while they dine using one of Doug Baldasare's kiosks. (For NewsWorks)

Businesses Woo Customers With Free Phone-Charging Stations

by Elizabeth Fiedler
Nov 29, 2013 (Morning Edition / WHYY, Inc.)

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It's around dinner time at Honeygrow, a casual restaurant in central Philadelphia.

Erin Campbell was on her way here to meet a friend when she realized, with panic, that her cellphone battery was dying.

"I noticed I only had 14 percent [battery] left, and I actually texted her on my way in to see if she could bring a charger with her," Campbell says.

But Campbell's friend told her there was no need to bring a charger — just inside the door of Honeygrow is a kiosk where customers can charge their phones.

To use a kiosk at Honeygrow, a customer picks an empty pod from the kiosk and opens a tiny door with a key that's in the lock. Inside, there are power cords for iPhones 4 and 5, BlackBerries and Androids. Customers plug in their phones, lay the phone on the shelf and lock the door with the key.

Campbell charges her phone here during dinner. After eating, she stops to unlock the little door and unplug her phone. Success: The battery is up to 66 percent.

Charging The Lifeline

Philadelphia entrepreneur Doug Baldasare founded ChargeItSpot after his own brush with phone battery death a few years ago when he was out with friends.

"All of our phones were dead so we were saying, you know, 'How are we going to find each other?' " he says. "I pointed to a store — it happened to be an Urban Outfitters — and I said, 'Why can't I walk in there and charge my phone?' "

Now Baldasare's company has phone-charging kiosks in some Urban Outfitters locations, as well as Whole Foods, a ski resort in Colorado and other retailers and restaurants in a half-dozen states.

"We need our phones so much every day in our lives — we clutch them like it's part of us; it's a lifeline," he says. "When our phones run low, we're really anxious."

There are companies with similar products, but they often charge customers to plug in, Baldasare says. ChargeItSpot's kiosks are free for phone owners — businesses pay to house a kiosk. In exchange, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers might get new customers.

"I started to realize, you know, that would be good for the retailer," Baldasare says. "It would bring me off the street, into their store and wow, if I could lock my phone up while it charged, now I would be really captive. I wouldn't have my phone on me. I don't know what to do with my life without my phone, so I'm going to shop."

Honeygrow owner Justin Rosenberg says customers are extraordinarily happy to be able to charge their phones at lunchtime.

"A lot of people come in here with the, I guess, the infamous 5 percent on their phone bar, and they know they can go to 25 percent by the time they leave lunch," he says.

Rosenberg says the kiosks are driving sales, at least a little. Sometimes people come in to charge their phones and end up buying something that's relatively cheap, like a drink.

As his business grows, he says, he plans to include kiosks in his new locations.

Copyright 2014 WHYY, Inc.. To see more, visit http://www.whyy.org.

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