Last month, two ominous signs appeared on the double glass doors of downtown Burlington's Kinko's -- I mean, FedEx Kinko's -- copy shop at the corner of South Winooski and Main Street. The friendly but firm blue-and-purple notices inform customers that starting June 1, Vermont's only Kinko's will begin closing at 11 p.m. and opening again at 6 a.m.
Like many Kinko's regulars who have come to rely on the chain's 24/7 availability, I was shocked. Hearing that Kinko's was cutting its hours was like finding out that my soulmate doesn't really get me after all. Don't you understand, I wanted to tell my favorite office and print center, I love you for your hours.
Branch Manager H. Binney Mitchell assures me that this has nothing to do with me; it's all about increasing "efficiency." And that makes me bitter. I mean, what's next, no free popcorn at City Market? No Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's? But I guess this is what happens when you fall in love with corporate America -- they'll leave you for the money.
If you've never had to run to Kinko's at 2 a.m., you're probably thinking what's the big freakin' deal? Clearly you don't appreciate the toll this will take on our creative economy. Having an all-night copy shop in town is one of the things that makes Burlington a livable city. It's especially important for musicians, artists, organizers and students, who often visit the store late at night to make fliers and print reports. It's true, many of them are procrastinators, but plenty of them have jobs that prevent them from using the store during daytime hours. Closing Kinko's at 11 p.m. will cramp their style.
And it will dramatically alter the area's late-night landscape. Soon, the only 24-hour hang-outs will be Shaw's and Denny's, which are in South Burlington, and Price Chopper, which might as well be. For this reason, comics illustrator and graphic designer Greg Giordano calls the hours change "tragic." "It used to be, you could get online at Kinko's, print out some color copies, and go get Moons Over My Hammy," he laments, referring to the Denny's dish. "Now you'll only be able to get Moons Over My Hammy."
This betrayal is especially bitter because like many Vermonters, I generally loathe national chains. But, Kinko's has always seemed, well, different. I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Maybe it's the funky name. Maybe it's the helpful, quirky staff who actually take pride in their work -- people like Meg, the Copy Goddess, and Andrew, who played the theramin. Or maybe it is just the hours. For whatever reason, I've seen people who would sooner drink pee than Starbucks coffee wax eloquent about Kinko's industrial copiers and their workstations stocked with fresh Sharpies and glue sticks.
And it's not just artists who are affected; all sorts of people use Kinko's at night. It's a real melting pot. And the odd hours encourage camaraderie absent during the light of day.
At midnight on the Saturday before UVM's graduation, while young, rowdy revelers gather at the downtown bars, Captain Randy Gates of the Vermont National Guard works at the grey table in the center of the self-serve copy machines. Gates, 44, recently returned from a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan. He's busy laying out a newsletter he makes for children at the nature center in California where he once worked as an environmental educator. The publication is called "Mud 'N Fun."
When I tell him that after June 1, Kinko's will close at 11, he's crestfallen. The North Ferrisburgh resident drives all the way to Burlington to lay out his publication four times each year, arriving late at night to avoid the crowds, and because that's when his wife can stay with their two children.
"This will affect me," he says with a sigh as he whites out a mistake on his "Stately Trees" word search. He printed it on the self-serve computers in back. Kinko's is the only place he's been able to find the "critter" font he uses for the title.
"This is going to be tough," he continues. "I don't have anywhere else to go. These guys really defined convenience for a long time."
Meanwhile, at a color copier, Holly Wilkinson-Ray photocopies some art for a project she's doing. Wilkinson-Ray teaches workshops for the Women's Small Business Program. She stopped in on her way to pick up her son from the 10 o'clock show at the Roxy.
Like many people, Wilkinson- Ray doesn't spend all her nights at Kinko's. But she's glad it's there when she needs it. She used to come here often when she was a grad student at UVM, and is disappointed by the new hours. "It's nice to have the flexibility," she says. "Eleven o'clock is early if you have projects you're working on."
No one is better positioned to observe that fact than Kinko's employee Jim Paolucci, who works the 8-8 shift Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. He's been on staff since 1990, and left Vermont for several years to manage a Kinko's in Connecticut.
He says he sees a lot of last-minute traffic. Just yesterday, he helped a woman who came in late at night print out photos for a funeral the next morning. He also says there are lots of wee-hour regulars, some of whom work the second or third shift, and come in to use the computers. "I feel bad for them," he says.
Although the signs don't say so, both Gates and Wilkinson-Ray immediately assumed, as I did, that FedEx was behind the hours change. The shipping company bought Kinko's last year, and has already made some changes -- the name, for example, and the staff's bright purple aprons.
Branch manager Mitchell more or less confirms my suspicions over coffee at Muddy Waters. He seems surprised by my emotional reaction, and says, somewhat defensively, "This wasn't supposed to be a dramatic change."
He also reminds me that California-based Kinko's hasn't always been open all night; the chain has been around since 1970, but it didn't go 24/7 until the early '90s. Mitchell says some branches cut back on their hours years ago, after staff in New York City raised safety concerns.
Ultimately, though, this round of cutbacks -- which are happening all over the Northeast -- can be traced to FedEx. Mitchell says a newly appointed regional vice-president -- a veteran of the FedEx side of the company -- has recommended that the store be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. "He's looking to improve quality," spins Mitchell.
If you're wondering how quality has anything to do with cutting back hours, you have to understand that Kinko's is actually running two businesses; the self-serve copy and computer services, and the professional production work that happens behind the counter. Only one of those businesses will close between 11 and 6.
In other words, the lights will be on, but the doors will be locked. You won't be able to make any copies, but the folks in back will still be at it. Mitchell estimates that this will cost the store between 3 and 5 percent of its daily business, but it will likely improve turn-around times on overnight orders.
Still, I sense that he's not thrilled about the change. He offers a ray of hope when he adds, "It's not set in stone." In other words, if customers make a fuss, they'll tweak the new hours, or maybe scrap them altogether. Incidentally, anyone interested in making a fuss can call the Kinko's hotline at 1-800-2KINKOS and email them at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or they can just stand in the building's foyer and scream. That's what one guy did last Friday night. At first I thought he was having some drunken fun, until Captain Gates mused, "Maybe he just found out Kinko's is closing."