By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Laconia has joined Cambridge, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, California; and some 50 other cities in more than 20 states and Canadian provinces as a home to Soofa benches, which not only offer a place to sit but also charge mobile devices by capturing and storing rays of sunlight.
The benches, one at the millstone fountain at the corner of Pleasant Street and Main Street and the other on the boardwalk at The Weirs, are fashioned of metal and wood to a modern design and seat three while charging mobile devices with solar power. They were developed, designed and manufactured by by Soofa of Cambridge, Massachusetts, an enterprise begun and managed by three women from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, one of whom vacations in the Lakes Region.
Melissa McCarthy, who owns and operates The Studio, first brought the benches to the attention of the Main Street Initiative in 2014 and this year Bree Henderson of Polished and Proper began soliciting investment on GoFundMe.com to finance the purchase and installation of the benches. Henderson said Tuesday that the $5,000 raised from local individuals and businesses during the past six months marked the first transaction financed through GoFundMe, which led Soofa "to give us a deal, two for one."
"The benches," McCarthy said, "are a way to enhance the image of Laconia as a forward moving, energetic place to be." She added that she is not aware Soofa benches elsewhere in New Hampshire. "The closet benches I know of are in Boston," she said. "If you need some juice, it's here."
Henderson explained that the battery cell holds eight hours of charging power. At the same time, the bench can be programmed to collect other data, such as environmental data that will enable the city to monitor its air quality. The entire device is powered exclusively by sunlight and has no operating costs.
Melissa McCarthy, Bree Henderson and Stacey Lucas, from left, relaxed on the Soofa bench near the millstone fountain downtown while charging their cell phones with the power of sunlight captured by the solar panel between them.
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