Remember Pay Phones? A Philly Man Is Bringing Them Back Without the Pay Part

The first PhilTel phone goes live this weekend in Philadelphia's Chinatown neighborhood

NBC Universal, Inc.

When was the last time you used – or even saw – a pay phone?

A Philly guy is trying to bring back a bit of nostalgia – and those big clunky phones – without the pay part.

The ring might sound a bit different. But there’s no mistaking the iconic calling contraption – at least for people of a certain age.

“I probably used one back in my teen years,” PhilTel’s Mike Dank said.

Digging for change, timed calls, waiting for that annoying person in front of you to hang up -- it’s all coming back isn’t it?

“Now when I see one on the street I have to go up and see if it’s working, go check it out,” Dank told NBC10. “They intrigue me.”

So much so that Dank decided it was time for a comeback. He heard of a guy in Portland who put a pay phone on his lawn. Dank thought why not do the same – except maybe not his lawn.

“It’s been fun putting it together,” Dank said.

Dank has embarked on a tech project with a passion.

“I am trying to put them in places that will benefit the community,” he said. “There is a population of people who don’t have access to cellphones or they have them, but can’t keep up with the bills.”

So, Dank took the guts out of a phone he bought at a flea market 10 years ago and brought the hunk of metal into the 21st Century.

The pay phone now operates like any normal phone.

If you look hard enough you can still find pay phones but finding a working one -- that’s even harder. There are only a few dozen left in the city.

The first of Dank’s PhilTel phones -- as he calls them – will start making calls Saturday afternoon at Iffy Books on North 11th street in the Chinatown neighborhood.

There are some hang ups for Dank or anyone trying to do the same thing. It’s all out of pocket for him – anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per phone plus the cost per minute.

So, he’s calling on the kindness of strangers who are able to spare a dime or two.

“Hopefully with donations and funds that’ll be covered, but even if it’s not it’s a low out of pocket cost,” Dank said.

His dream? To see a revamped pay phone in every neighborhood.

“I think one of the more interesting things is going to be seeing how kids react to it or how parents show their kids how to use it and see how this sort of archaic process that was once everywhere… works.”

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