Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Not a Good Match

For a few months, Small Town and Small Town Next Door were all hopped up on the new Starbucks that was opening up by the mall. The company announced in January or so they would be building a shop and would plan on opening some time in March. There were debates about how this would affect the local shops—would the competition hurt or help? Would people be loyal to their favorite places for joe, or would they defect? Considering the location, which is a bit out of the way for most people heading to work, I didn't think it would do harm.

Now, Starbucks has announced they will not be moving here after all. We are not a large enough market for them, and we are not urban enough. They say that as if they didn't pay us a visit before they chose the spot for their building and gave the builder the idea it was OK to go ahead and break ground. They say that as if they didn't do a lick of research, which I find difficult to believe. I think it might be more likely they just can't afford to take chances on smaller towns these days, what with their recent financial struggles.

Do we care? Small Town Paper took an online poll, and apparently 78% of us don't. We like our locally owned shops, joints we can pop into because they are perfectly situated in store fronts on main street, places with familiar faces who know what you want even before you place your order. In My Favorite Place for Joe, if the person on duty is in the back, you can go behind the counter and get your own refill. You don't mind holding the back door open so that same person can take the trash out or bring a delivery in. You don't mind straightening the rug when it gets bunched up at the cash register, and you know where the napkins are kept so you can get extras if you need them. The eccentric poet and the talkative guitar player and the school bus driver who plays drums and the long-haired guy with the black coat who knows everything there is to know about computers and the rich guy who needs a chiropractor and the barbershop quartet singing in the back room and the investment counselor who used to teach tennis and the school teachers having an early lunch and the pastors talking about the Gospel of John and the lanky guy from the radio station and the mailman with the ponytail and the woman who prints the menus and her various friends can all sit together and belong. And they can get a good cup of coffee while they're at it.

Over the weekend, I was stopped at the red light in front of My Favorite Place for Joe. While I was waiting for the light to change, I looked in the direction of the coffee shop and saw the owner standing behind the counter waving at me. I waved back and thought this is what a local small town shop gives a customer—familiarity and belonging. I doubt that would ever happen at Starbucks. That doesn't make the corporate shop a bad place. Some people just want to order a good, strong cup of coffee from an anonymous barrista who doesn't want to be bothered with waving out the window and who won't let you go behind the counter for any reason.

The big, corporate shop just isn't a match for Small Town, I guess. Starbucks would have found their market here had they made an effort, but we won't feel a loss now they have backed out.


Pianist friend said...

"The lanky guy from the radio station"...hahahaha!!

Here here - who needs Starbucks anyway?

dive said...

Wow! What a lucky town, Robyn.
We have way too many Starbies over here. There are four of the things between the nearest tube station and my office in Westminster. And I walk past all of 'em to go to my favourite little Brazilian deli where the girls have my (excellent) coffee waiting with a smile and a chat.

Anonymous said...

Starbucks announced earlier this year that they were only going to open half of the stores they originally planned. Thus focusing on the prime locations. They did their research, they do their site rides, the site goes through a long approval process, but since the site was approved the retail market changed and now that location no longer makes sense.

Not a Starbucks employee, just familiar with the retail real estate world.

Gina said...

I think its pretty good that you won't be getting a Starbucks. You are probably right in that they are putting the brakes on their expansion plans.

I don't drink coffee, but it would be nice to have such friendly places as yours!

Scout said...

PF, I don't. Do you?

Dive, I will admit, I like Starbucks coffee, and I make it at home. It's the larger picture and the place I could take or leave, preferably leave.

Anonymous, thanks for clearing that up. I knew a company that size wouldn't just randomly pick a little town without researching it first. Now, we've got an empty building to fill. Maybe I can put my cheesecake shop in there.

Gina, it's the Cheers of coffee shops, but some people drink tea there instead.

Rich said...

Starbucks has been closing some of its smaller market stores in order to save money. Here in the Boston area it's Dunkin Donuts that's killing the mom and pop coffee shops, you just can't make it when DD's pops up were ever they damn please. jeesh

good post Robny and next time I see you sitting at the light, I'll give you a wave. :)

savannah said...

we have 7 starbucks here in savannah, including the stand at the airport. fortunately, we still have our little coffee houses that could around! savannah discouraged the coming of national chains for a long time, but now welcomes them, as long as they are good neighbors! it's funny who's here, marc jacobs, american apparel and soon, urban outfitters. of course we lso have gap and banana republic on our main street downtown. but for all of these, the rest of the shops are locally owned places.

Mrs. G. said...

I would be so thankful. I read an article recently about how many family coffee shops SB has run out of business. The Walmart of coffee. Here, they are on every corner.

Maria said...

I'm not much of a Starbucks woman. I like the little coffee shop tucked into the little book store about three blocks from my house. There is a fat orange cat there and chairs of all kinds for many sizes and shapes of bottoms.

I liked your description. I grew up in a small town and I miss that sort of familiarity.

Shannon & Paul said...

Have to take the other side here...

If I still lived in Small Town, I'd welcome it. One of my authors has been a barista with Starbucks for ten years. The people he pulled coffee for came to his book release party and bought his novel. Yes, they are a chain, but they are not a heartless chain. They promote good music and good books and their employees have decent benefits and paid vacations [Nothing to scoff at with our healthcare system].

They'd hire the local kids and train them to be helpful and pleasant and those kids would know your name and wave when they see you.

Here, in my new town, we have a bundle of them. Four Starbucks within three miles. And yet there's another five+ local joints doing robust business as well.

We did lose our wonderful German bakery, but the owner retired to Florida. Boo Florida.

Scout said...

Shannon, point taken. There's just a bit of a backlash here because they backed out. And everyone was afraid their favorite places would suffer. There's a new place in Sugar Creek you'd love.