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Phone used for pictures, not calls

Cellphone-toting public seldom uses booths

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These days, 50 cents won't buy you much -- but it will buy you a quick trip back in time, courtesy of the English-style telephone booth just outside the downtown Elephant & Castle Pub and Restaurant.

Ornate, lined with glass windows and equipped with a fully functioning pay phone, this red relic is one of the few surviving telephone booths in Winnipeg.

Upon close watch of the booth, it becomes clear why.

"I wanted to go in there and try a phone booth," said Charlie McKay, the booth's sole visitor during a busy weekday lunch hour. "I'd never been inside one before and wanted to know what it was like."

McKay had his own cellphone and didn't pay the 50 cents to make a call.

Over the course of an hour, the time-warped telephone was surrounded by busy professionals, smoking, visiting, talking on their cellphones and giving the poor thing little attention.

It's a clunky if not charming reminder of times past.

"It's kind of a decoration, but it doesn't really get used," said Diego Moncado, manager of the Elephant & Castle, which is located in the Delta Winnipeg Hotel on St. Mary Avenue. "The phone booth itself is becoming just for novelty."

While Maxwell Smart, Bill and Ted, and Superman have all found creative uses for this technology, phone booths are becoming less and less common in Winnipeg.

MTS spokeswoman Jessica Poitras estimated while there are more than 2,400 MTS coin-operated phones in the city, only 12 of the four-walled booths remain.

Was this what street artist Banksy was getting at when he artfully murdered a red-box London telephone booth, sticking a pickaxe in its slumped remains? Oh, the tele-humanity.

And the landline could be the next dinosaur to go. Recent Statistics Canada figures show non-wireless telephones provide an increasingly less popular service. Between 2002 and 2010, fixed-line telephone expenses dropped 32 per cent, with cellphone expenses rising 189 per cent. Statistics Canada also reported household spending on landlines has decreased every year since 2002. Cellphone spending, on the other hand, surpassed fixed-line spending in 2009.

Moncado estimated the throwback telephone booth has been outside the business for 15 years, and while the Elephant & Castle used to receive a royalty cheque, they have not received one in years, as the booth is almost never used.

But McKay, the retro's booth's lone visitor, isn't so quick to sing the telephone booth's swan song.

"They should be around for a younger generation to see where cellphones came from. It shows our history and culture," he said.

Meanwhile, there is a use for this nostalgia-soaked artifact that the common smartphone doesn't offer.

"I see a lot of people posing for pictures with it," said Jesse, a Delta Winnipeg Hotel employee who asked that his last name not be used. "It's a lot of fun for people. It's a cool-looking thing."


Dropping In is a 'random act of journalism' that starts with a thumbtack on a city map and ends with a story from the street.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2012 A2

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