Save our Starbucks? Gimme a Break!

When Starbucks announced on the first of July that it would close 600 stores, a cry of anguish went out from suburbia. “Where, oh where will we get our consistently over-priced & burnt-tasting lattes?” they moaned.

Soon thereafter, a new website went online, called Save our Starbucks, or SOS (how cute) encouraging regular customers to…

tell the world your Starbucks story and how much you value your local location. Who knows, it may help keep it open…

Never mind that Starbucks, like other big chains, has almost certainly helped bring about the demise of locally-owned businesses, and never mind that Starbucks has resisted the Wobblies’ attempts to unionize its employees:

The Industrial Workers of the World, which has tried for years to organize Starbucks employees in some cities, said it is “deeply troubled that management’s numerous missteps are resulting in more serious hardships for baristas, bussers and shift supervisors.” [Allison 2 July 2008]

Hearteningly, a few of the comments on the “SOS” site, under “Recent posts from dedicated Starbucks’ customers are of a different flavor:

Where were all of you when Starbucks was predatorily opening stores located to take business away from your locally owned coffee shop? Save your communities, not a massive corporate chain.

I have worked as a barista in four different coffeehouses, 3 of them independents and one a chain (Steep & Brew, out of Madison, Wisconsin). My observations of that business is that the local coffee houses, while not always as consistent (at least they’re not consistently bad, like Starbucks!) in terms of product, are valuable neighborhood hubs and often showcase local arts and crafts, and hold community-based functions.

Chain coffee houses, for the most part, are an in-and-out experience, and are often frequented by folks who are only interested in getting the product and getting out. The management tends to be cutthroat, and the politics akin to your “local” McDonald’s (where I also did a brief stint at the tender age of fifteen).

While I’m sure that some Starbucks locations do function as a local hub for the community (and some Starbucks’ employees are friendly and personable and remember your favorite drink), the fact is that the parent company is not dedicated to your community the way a local java stop is. Their profits are heading out of your town, and their wages aren’t much better than the independents.

Save your “grassroots efforts” for people and organizations that care about your community–patronize and support your locally-owned, community based businesses and sustain your local economy.


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