As mobile phones gained widespread use in the 1990s, the operator of London’s red telephone boxes seemed to lose interest – perhaps not surprisingly – in maintaining them. More often than not you’d find yourself dropping a coin in the slot only to find the phone was out of order.
If you were lucky, hitting the coin eject button would cause your cash to drop into the compartment below, but then you had to hope the cover wasn’t jammed so you could actually get your money back.
People complained at the time that idiots were going around vandalizing the phone boxes, breaking the telephones in the process. But as Monty Python’s John Cleese once said, “It’s not that they don’t work because they’ve been vandalized; they’ve been vandalized because they don’t work.”
Well, that was all a very long time ago, and these days, instead of housing out-of-order phones, some of the iconic red boxes are being refurbished to provide a range of interesting, and somewhat unexpected, services.
Take Ben Spier, who recently opened a salad bar, of all things, inside a central London phone booth. Open two days a week for hungry tourists and local office workers, the tiny space contains a refrigerator and enough room to display a variety of tasty-looking dishes costing between $6 and $11.
The setup was made possible by the Red Kiosk Company, which a couple of years ago obtained permission to repurpose unused booths for small businesses. Or big businesses in need of a satellite office, perhaps.
Entrepreneurs can rent a booth for about $15 a day, or buy it outright for around $15,000. “The iconic red telephone box is both a great piece of engineering and architecture, which are now mostly sitting redundant of any use,” Red Kiosk says on its website. “Our aim is to redefine their usage to suit modern day needs and requirements without compromising their external appearance.”
Earlier this month, we also heard about a project to turn some of the famous phone boxes into mini offices, with some set to contain 25-inch screens, scanners, printers, a wireless mouse, and a Wi-Fi connection.
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