When I tell people that my Kansas hometown, population aspiring to 40,000, recently got a Starbucks, they often frown or laugh. The reaction is either “oh, they’ll just corporatize anything” or “well, you’re sure in the big time now, huh?” No matter what I say, the initial position that anyone takes on this development is that Starbucks emerging in my hometown means some kind of death of the local coffee scene. Big Business riding roughshod over the hopes and dream of small town American coffee roasters, or something like that.
The truth is, Starbucks moving into my hometown didn’t crush any Mom and Pop coffee shops — in fact, it inspired a couple of Moms and Pops to open their own (including one right down the street that makes a mean frozen latte). In the paraphrased words of my wise uncle Jim, Starbucks, in many towns, doesn’t destroy the market for coffee — it creates it. It’s like saying, Oh, NO! They built a multiplex movie theater at your mall? However will the indie theaters survive? when, before the mall got a movie theater, everyone was driving an hour to Wichita just to see the latest Michael Keaton flick (it was the eighties, yeah). Starbucks moved into my hometown and people started to look sidelong at their Sanka. They started to drink coffee after 4 in the afternoon. They started to prefer it half-caf with an extra pump of vanilla. They stopped (well, for the most part) thinking that the stuff from the Kwik Shop was actually a cappuccino. To me, that’s a service to society.
My hometown’s Starbucks was spared in the recent decision to cut 600 stores (as were, inexplicably, the eleven locations in my current town, two of which face each other), but I feel some sympathy for places that are fighting to keep their favorite Starbucks locations open. Newark may not qualify as either a big city or not a city, but the New York Times story about how it has become a gathering place — and a sign of improvement on a busy street — really makes me hope the company will reconsider.
I’m going away from all Starbucks and all internets and all cell phone receptions for the weekend. Back on Sunday. Drink a little in my absence, or they’ll close another couple Starbucks by the time I return, yes?