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Cybersmith Nets First Year Success

By R. ALAN Leo

A small crowd stood on the Church Street sidewalk last night, peering into a store window.

"Ouch," yelled an amused onlooker as he watched somebody inside crash off a computerized skiing course.

The victim was in the midst of a tense game of "VR Skiing," a virtual reality computer simulation realistic enough to draw a crowd on a Friday night.

VR Skiing is a new attraction at Cybersmith, a "retail experience" located at 36 Church St. which features 55 interactive computer stations and 17 Internet stations.

The store also has an assortment of video game stations, CD ROM stations and two virtual reality games.

Customers can use their computer terminal to order from Smitty's On-Line Cafe, a coffee and sandwich bar located in the middle of the store.

"We want people to come and have a good time and find out what's out there," says Assistant Manager Soren L. Ryherd.

Cybersmith, which was founded one year ago today, draws people who are curious about the Internet and who want to try it for the first time, many customers say.

"I'm being exposed today," says Charlie J. Arancia of Boston.

Arancia was brought to Cybersmith by his friend who came to the store in search of "a really neat screensaver."

Cybersmith could meet his needs. One screensaver, for example, mimics a game of "Pong" played with photographs of the customer's head instead of a ball.

Technosmith Abba J. Mtenga says that the self-made screensavers are a hit.

"You can see a sense of fascination and happiness when they get their pictures," he says.

Mtenga says that while older customers are often pulled in by curiosity about the Internet, the youngest customers are often lured by the virtual reality games.

Two patrons to the store--Steven, 10, and Beth, 8, agree.

Virtual reality is their favorite product, they say, because "it's one of those things you don't find in regular stores."

But virtual reality games aren't only for kids. After a Valentine's Day dinner in the Square last night, Michael T. Spofford and his wife, Dianne, came into Cybersmith when they saw VR Skiing in the window.

"We literally fell into it," said Dianne, a resident of Saugus.

Having left their two children at home with a babysitter, Mike and Dianne began with virtual skiing. Then they strapped into "Zone Hunter," a virtual shoot-'em-up that allows two players to interact in cyberspace.

Interaction is a buzzword at Cybersmith. Marshall Smith, the store's founder and the man behind Booksmith, Videosmith and Learningsmith, originally wanted to call his newest brainchild "Interactivity-smith," until his son talked him out of it, employees say.

Although interaction was dropped from the name, it remains in the spirit of Cybersmith, Ryherd says.

Annie Lareau and Rachel S. Garber, graduate students at the Harvard School of Education, agree.

"It's one of the few places where you see people interacting together in front of the computer," Garber says. She and Lareau explored a showcase of Van Gogh's paintings titled "Starry Night"--one of Cybersmith's 50 CD ROM titles.

Ryherd says that it is the spirit of this kind of interaction which made Cybersmith the Improper Bostonian's 1995 pick for "the best place for a first date."

John and Kelly--who themselves are there on a date--suggest a different reason for Cybersmith's popularity with first-daters.

"You don't have to talk to each other," Kelly says.

Although employees stress that customers with no computer experience can feel comfortable at Cybersmith, the store draws computer wonks, too.

Rhonda M. Johnson, a Somerville entrepreneur, visits Cybersmith several times each week. She says she is creating a page on the World Wide Web to test public response to an idea for a company.

Her company, called "Way Out Corp," would use the Internet to coordinate social organizations seeking resources with private corporations.

Anthony A. Schinella of Cambridge, who hosts "The Tony Schinella Show" on the Tufts University radio station WMFO, has visited Cybersmith regularly since its opening.

Schinella says he comes to check his e-mail during his lunch hour. He also uses "Gopher" to check facts for his talk show.

"I'm not Rush Limbaugh," Schinella says. "I like to get the exact numbers."

These services, however, can be expensive. Rates for the different services vary from 20 cents per minute for Internet access to a five dollar fee for a virtual reality "experience."

"You can spend a lot of money here," warns Tufts student Jeffrey T. Steiner

Having left their two children at home with a babysitter, Mike and Dianne began with virtual skiing. Then they strapped into "Zone Hunter," a virtual shoot-'em-up that allows two players to interact in cyberspace.

Interaction is a buzzword at Cybersmith. Marshall Smith, the store's founder and the man behind Booksmith, Videosmith and Learningsmith, originally wanted to call his newest brainchild "Interactivity-smith," until his son talked him out of it, employees say.

Although interaction was dropped from the name, it remains in the spirit of Cybersmith, Ryherd says.

Annie Lareau and Rachel S. Garber, graduate students at the Harvard School of Education, agree.

"It's one of the few places where you see people interacting together in front of the computer," Garber says. She and Lareau explored a showcase of Van Gogh's paintings titled "Starry Night"--one of Cybersmith's 50 CD ROM titles.

Ryherd says that it is the spirit of this kind of interaction which made Cybersmith the Improper Bostonian's 1995 pick for "the best place for a first date."

John and Kelly--who themselves are there on a date--suggest a different reason for Cybersmith's popularity with first-daters.

"You don't have to talk to each other," Kelly says.

Although employees stress that customers with no computer experience can feel comfortable at Cybersmith, the store draws computer wonks, too.

Rhonda M. Johnson, a Somerville entrepreneur, visits Cybersmith several times each week. She says she is creating a page on the World Wide Web to test public response to an idea for a company.

Her company, called "Way Out Corp," would use the Internet to coordinate social organizations seeking resources with private corporations.

Anthony A. Schinella of Cambridge, who hosts "The Tony Schinella Show" on the Tufts University radio station WMFO, has visited Cybersmith regularly since its opening.

Schinella says he comes to check his e-mail during his lunch hour. He also uses "Gopher" to check facts for his talk show.

"I'm not Rush Limbaugh," Schinella says. "I like to get the exact numbers."

These services, however, can be expensive. Rates for the different services vary from 20 cents per minute for Internet access to a five dollar fee for a virtual reality "experience."

"You can spend a lot of money here," warns Tufts student Jeffrey T. Steiner

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