Internet café opens Friday in downtown DowagiacPublished 10:03am Thursday, December 3, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
After six years as a home-based business, JenkinsPC, offering computer sales, service and an Internet cafe, opens Friday on Brian Jenkins’ birthday.
Jenkins, a veteran of 18 years in computers, and his wife, Jennifer, who also has a bachelor’s degree in computer science, moved to 711 N. Front St. in Dowagiac two years ago from Warsaw, Ind.
Yes, the couple who have been married for 13 years met on the Internet.
They streamed video of their wedding.
Since he already lives here, it’s probably too late to persuade Jenkins that the 106-unit parade passing by his window at 218 S. Front St. is a typical welcome for anyone who opens in the central business district on their birthday.
It has been a whirlwind putting the venture in place in four weeks, but Wednesday afternoon his sign was up and five of the eight stations had been installed, meaning the curious have been sniffing around. His counter arrives today.
JenkinsPC will be open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We’ll tweak it as we need to,” Jennifer said.
Friend Barry Gardner dropped by Tuesday night to visit one of the downtown locations where the barber cut hair in 1978.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving he signed a lease with Jeff Neumann, owner of Farm Bureau Insurance, for the smaller of Jeff’s two storefronts with distinctive “courtroom lights,” as Jenkins dubbed them.
If Saylor’s Pizzeria a block north on the same side is the home of the $5 pizza, Jenkins is “the home of the $250 computer.”
JenkinsPC will provide sales and service for any Intel or Windows-based PCs and servers, and will also provide office support services to the public such as the use of a copy machine, scanning and telefaxing.
JenkinsPC’s Internet cafe features firewall software that insures child-safe Internet service.
The firewall software Brian uses reportedly ranks second in the world and is used by more than a million hospitals and schools.
To be sure, he turns to daughter Elizabeth Schaefer, a 2010 Miss Dowagiac contestant, and her boyfriend for teen-tested security.
While JenkinsPC has been home-based for two years in Dowagiac, a growing clientele encouraged him to relocate to a more visible site within the community – especially since two other computer businesses on Pennsylvania Avenue and in Silver Creek Plaza closed.
The layout of Neumann’s storefront should serve the business well, providing an area in which he can work on computers separate from the new computers he’ll stock and the Internet cafe.
Jenkins, a Philadelphia native who also lived in Arizona, started the business as a sideline.
“Then we got a little bigger and took on Houseworks at Sister Lakes and put their network in – server, firewall, wired it, the whole nine yards,” Brian said. “I get a lot of referrals. That was a referral from Ernestine (Matthews). That tells me I must do good work, because this is all by word of mouth. I have sold so many computers that I get used, refurbish them and set them up at yard sales so they can test them out and play with them. I had a woman call me today about bringing her computer in and I’m not even open yet.”
What brought them to Dowagiac from Warsaw was it shortened his two-hour commute to Ipc Print Services in St. Joseph.
A colleague on Peavine Street suggested Brian visit the Grand Old City and “look around.”
Doing that commute for four months, “I could blow a full tank of gas in two days, easily,” Jenkins said. “One of the companies I worked for in Warsaw is a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.”
As soon as they moved in on Nov. 17 two years ago, it started to snow.
With Brian’s jobs in network administration, “We’ve been all over,” Jennifer said.
“I’ve been a corporate cubie,” her husband adds. “You have to go where the job is. Right now in IT the best places to go are Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago, Iowa and Oklahoma. None of those places are enticing me to move. I have no clue why Iowa. Omaha, Neb., is another hot place to go right now, while the East Coast has nothing.”
Warsaw, a resort town, is home to Biomet, the giant in human join replacement devices.
“When I moved here Dowagiac glistened with jobs,” he said. “Then Ameriwood went out, and National Copper,” ICG and Contech. I’ve seen friends lose their houses, but I think it will turn around – especially downtown.”
With the Internet cafe, “You’re renting time on the computer for $2 an hour. We’ll have cards available, so if you buy 10 hours, you get 11. Cards don’t expire for 60 days, so you can come anytime and use the time. You log in with your user name and password. It ticks off the time as you use it,” Jennifer explained.
The couple agree with Second Ward City Council candidate Nancy Leonard that many people still lack home access to computers.
“Believe it or not, they don’t,” Brian said. “My friend on Peavine can’t get cable television. He uses his iPhone for his Internet.”
“Or, we find a lot of people don’t have access to high-speed Internet, just slow dial-up, because of where we live” in a rural area, Jennifer said. “We have discussed doing some training classes, but it’s not ironed out yet.”
“You know how long it took me to get my mother to figure out what a mouse was on a computer?” Brian asked. “Now, she thanks me because she’s on Facebook, connecting with her friends. My dad doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t want a computer, doesn’t even have cable in his house out on six acres of property. He’s totally against technology and doesn’t have a cell phone. He has TV, but with an antenna on his house. He’s never paid for TV before, so he doesn’t want to start paying for it at 67.”
He agrees with his dad to an extent, after almost finishing his popcorn wading through commercials to see “The Day the Earth Stood Still” with a subscription service.
Or, the pop-up promotions which block the program itself, leaving viewers to squint at their show through a picture frame of commercial clutter.
While many people assume “cafe” implies coffee, they would need food service permitting for that, although vending machines are on “the right back burner,” he said.
Jenkins can custom build a computer based on individual needs.
“If you just need something to get on the Internet, chit chat here and there and do e-mail, you don’t need a high-end computer,” Jennifer said, “you need something simple. But if you want to do hard-core gaming, you’re going to want a much higher-end computer. We have refurbished off-lease corporate computers people can buy.”
Contrary to many computer repairers, he does not charge a $25 “bench fee” just for dropping off a machine. “To me, that’s wrong, that’s a scam. I’ll look at it, tell you what’s wrong with it , how I can fix it and what the cost is. If you want me to buy the parts, fine. If you want to buy the parts, I’ll put them in. I don’t care if someone goes to Best Buy and buys parts and a case. I’ll put that together as a service,” Jenkins said.
“I’ve gotten a lot of certifications over the years,” such as Microsoft and Dell, he said. “I started out when Windows was 1.0. I was a diesel mechanic. At vo-tech school in Pennsylvania, I took EES, Electronic Equipment Service. That’s when fixing VCRs, TVs and calculators was the big thing. Before computers were really out” in the ’80s, the main discussion topic was VHS format versus Beta. A punch card machine was donated to the school his second year.
“I had it working in an hour,” he said. “My teacher said I was a natural. It’s like it talks to me. I understand what all that circuitry is doing inside that box, that there are chip devices that only take information one way. I understand where it goes and how it gets there.
“To me, a computer is like a human body or a car. The processor is the engine. The hard drive is the transmission which makes things go. The monitor screen is your front window. The keyboard and mouse are your steering wheel and gearshift.”
“I have a degree in computer science, but I don’t get it nearly as well as he does,” Jennifer admitted.
Her husband has a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a programming minor he earned in Philadelphia.
“It just comes to me” in black and white, no gray, Jenkins said.
“It’s binary code, like an (Apple) Mac(intosh). It’s on or it’s off. There’s no massaging a Mac. I got hurt as a mechanic. My first computer job was as a tape jockey, running back-up tapes – reel-to-reel magnetic tapes to a big IBM mainfra
me. Then I learned programming. Then the company I worked for in Pennsylvania went away from mainframe to Windows – the first time I worked with servers, per se. Within six months, I took a parallel job working on the Windows side.”
Jenkins said the most common repair is replacing the hard drive, which should last five to six years, worn out by surfing the Internet without virus or spyware protection.
“A hard drive is basically a disk with an arm on it that goes across and puts little dots on the drive. If it gets too much, going back and forth trying to read, it prematurely burns out,” he said.