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September 24, 2002
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Want your independent coffeehouse to be a success? Pray for a Starbucks to open next door.
posted by NortonDC (54 comments total)

 
It was also cool when the used bookstore I worked at thrived after a Barnes & igNoble moved in a block away.
posted by goethean at 9:35 AM on September 24, 2002


Being in the coffee industry myself (I work for a tiny chain that was actually started by the guy who taught the Starbucks folks everything they know), I can't help but feel like this is true for independent coffee houses only in certain areas. If you're in a semi-urban area where there are more choices anyway, or if you're in a part of the country with an intense love for coffee (i.e. the Pacific Northwest), then this is probably true. However, if you're in a backwater town, or somewhere in the midwest, Starbucks is fairly likely to slaughter you, unless you roast your own coffee & have a staunch local following. My college town is in just such a place, and the local coffee shop (Buzz, for you Cincinnati types) closed within just a few months of Starbucks coming to town.
posted by dryad at 9:35 AM on September 24, 2002


Starbucks coffee tastes like poo.
posted by zanpo at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2002


This is very strange logic from the WSJ. As their own graphs show, the overall market of coffee houses is increasing. Yet also as their own graphs show, Starbucks, in the midst of that growing market, is assuming an increasing percentage of the overall market.

So how is that good? That's the same as the human body growing larger while a small cancer grows greater and greater inside your stomach. To an even better analogy, this is like saying there's no problem that Microsoft dominates the market simply because more people have computers than they did in 1990. Increase in consumer demand doesn't make it okay for the larger companies to dominate the ability to fulfill that demand. The Journal made this article appear as though the increase in Starbucks is increasing the independent market share of coffee houses; in reality it's doing exactly the opposite.

In terms of overall business practices, Starbuck's is not the biggest fish to fry- they are allegedly employee-friendly, they have a reputable charity program, etc. But nevertheless, as various stories and threads on Metafilter and elsewhere have already shown, no matter how nice and friendly, Starbucks is still a giant company that wants to crush the competitor. They may have increased the demand for coffee, but that doesn't mean they're not doing their best to make sure they're the only pusher in town.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:39 AM on September 24, 2002


Starbucks = Microsoft = Cancer?

Don't forget Walmart and McDonalds.
posted by zanpo at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2002


Well, compared to the fate of independent bookstores against chains, indy coffeehouses seem to be holding their own. Unlike the trend noted in the article, you never hear about indy bookstores using a strategy of opening a shop across the street of a Borders or a B&N...
posted by crookdimwit at 9:42 AM on September 24, 2002


I've seen a similar phenomenon in my neighborhood. A local coffee shop called Cuppa Joe's was up in arms a couple years ago when they learned that a Starbuck's was going to be put across the street from them. They adapted quite well, though--most notably by getting permission from the City to reserve two parking spaces on the street for drive-up customers. When a car pulls in, an employee runs out, takes the order and the money, runs back inside to get the coffee, and brings it out to the car. Starbuck's has no such service. It's worked out so well for Joe's that they've had to hire an extra employee to stand outside all day waiting for customers to pull up; he then radios the order in to the store and retrieves it for the customer.
posted by Acetylene at 9:48 AM on September 24, 2002


I would have to disagree with dryad. I've seen a lot of independents go under when Starbucks rolls into town, and I've seen others survive. I think it has a lot to do with the quality of the existing shops. Smaller college town I lived in had 3 semi-decent coffee shops, but none were worth writing home about. Starbucks opened in town, and 2 shops stepped up to the challenge, and improved service and selection. The third stayed with business as usual. It went under within 6 months. The other 2, and Starbucks, are doing great.

independent does NOT always equal good. If they are a good shop that people like, they will survive 90% of the time. Those who do not survive usually don't because they weren't all that great in the first place.
posted by dirt at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2002


Starbucks coffee tastes like poo.

I know it's hyperbole, but let's examine that statement for a second, shall we? Have you ever eaten poo? I haven't, but I'd imagine it tastes pretty darn awful. In fact, I think if I had poo in my mouth I would spit it out very quickly, and then brush my teeth several times over. I'd probably drain a bottle of Listerine, too.

Now, I've had Starbucks coffee. In fact, I get Starbucks quite frequently. I don't pretend to know what "real coffee" tastes like, but I do know for a fact that Starbucks coffee does not taste like poo. I have never spit it out because it tastes like feces. I have never seen anyone else spit it out and say, "Oh my f***ing god! This coffee tastes like shit! Actual shit!" My girlfriend used to work at Starbucks, and I'm sure she would have told me if they put shit in the grinders instead of coffee.

Do you really believe that Starbucks coffee tastes like poo?
posted by starvingartist at 10:10 AM on September 24, 2002


By coincidence, I was thinking about my ambivalence towards Starbuck's just yesterday. Try as I might--and I'm the right demographic to do it--I can't work up much animosity towards them.

Unlike Walmart or B&N, I don't think it's difficult for an independent to compete against Starbuck's. Their product is poor (at least the brewed coffee is) and their prices are sky high. If an independent coffee house gets driven out of business by Starbuck's, it probably deserved to.
posted by chipr at 10:13 AM on September 24, 2002


beware
posted by blue_beetle at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2002


Maybe the Starbucks trend and infiltration into pop culture has caused a new coffee cultural awareness? Sure, there were coffeehouses 10 years ago, but did they have the diverse mocha-latte-espresso-chai-soymilk-almondmocha-caramel-capaccinos back then that they do today? More Starbucks = more people interested in coffee products? I wonder if coffee drinking itself has increased. Hmm...

I don't drink Starbucks for a different reason.
posted by gramcracker at 10:17 AM on September 24, 2002


I want to open an international dessert shop carrying famous desserts from all over the world and also fresh coffee. hmmmmm ...
posted by adnanbwp at 10:18 AM on September 24, 2002


It strikes me as odd that this article neglected to explore the possibility that Starbucks has simply switched target markets, giving its original market back to the indies in order to become the McDonald's of coffee.

Indulge me a minute: in 1996, I worked for one of the first Starbucks to open in Toronto. Everything from the neighbourhoods Starbucks set up in to the training materials indicated that Starbucks wanted to be seen as a high-end purveyor of gourmet coffee. They also made no bones about the strategy of targeting places with successful local coffee shops.

It appeared to have worked: on several days that first summer, the line-up was out the door. People walking around Toronto's fanciest shopping district (Yorkville, for those who know T.O.), a place with no shortage of high-end coffee shops, were willing to stand in line in the muggy heat to get hot coffee out of a paper cup from a shop without enough seating for them.

Fast forward to today, and there are Starbucks on every other corner, in chain bookstores, at the airport. Most of the city's beloved local coffee shops have survived, and continue to cater to the hip urban-dwellers they always have, while Starbucks is the place where tourists and suburbanites hang out when they're downtown - and where those urban-dwellers get coffee if they're in a big hurry or something. Just like MacDonald's.

In other words, Starbucks entered the market as a high-end niche biz and then leveraged its trendiness to go mass market. In the process it abandoned its original market, allowing local coffee shops that survived the first wave to reclaim their customers.

This is my theory, and it's only a theory. But it's surprising that an elite WSJ biz journalist didn't even consider anything more nuanced than a pie's-getting-bigger-everyone's-getting-fat analysis.
posted by gompa at 10:18 AM on September 24, 2002 [1 favorite]


Well, keep in mind the paper you're reading, gompa. The WSJ is, to quote Al Pacino, "not exactly a bastion of anti-Capitalist sentiment." I don't recall that many memorable articles in this paper about how expanding corporate empires are bad.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:30 AM on September 24, 2002


Starvingartist -- that is funny as shit.
posted by stbalbach at 10:31 AM on September 24, 2002


Okay, let me rephrase...

Starbucks tends to over-roast their coffee, and use beans that are very acidic... making for a cup of joe that has a taste that reminds me of that of the smell of jet fuel fumes.
posted by zanpo at 10:36 AM on September 24, 2002


While I may take exception to Starbucks corporate policies and over-priced products, It's hard to knock the quality.
You may prefer the aged sumatra that you grind and prepare in a french press at home, but that doesn't mean that Starbucks coffee "taste like poo" or any of the other ridiculous knocks I hear on this subject.
Like it or not, I think Starbucks helped raise the bar for
other coffee merchants, from high-end restaurants to the corner 7-11, and yes, even many indie coffee shops.

That may be hard to appreciate in San Francisco or Seattle,
(we have Peets), but next time you stop for coffee on a road trip and it isn't a scorched cup of Hills Bros., you may want to thank Starbucks for elevating the nation's coffee consciousness.

Or throw a brick through the window.
I don't care.
posted by 2sheets at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2002 [1 favorite]


zanpo: Starbucks tends to over-roast their coffee, and use beans that are very acidic... making for a cup of joe that has a taste that reminds me of that of the smell of jet fuel fumes.

I agree completely. I hate their brewed coffee. It's nasty. My theory is that it's a ploy to get more customers to order the pricier espresso-based drinks. In essence, they don't want you to like their brewed coffee too much. Though, I concede, it could just contain poop.
posted by tippiedog at 10:56 AM on September 24, 2002


Another article by Shirley Leung, coauthor of the Starbucks piece: Large Chains Devour Small Restaurateurs. Same story, opposite conclusion.
posted by PeteBevin at 11:02 AM on September 24, 2002


Some coffee really does taste like poo.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:09 AM on September 24, 2002


I managed coffeeshops forever, thinking it would be an ideal low-stress job for a creative type. WRONG! But I learned some stuff:

1) Artist Kieron Dwyer's ubiquitous episode with Starbucks. (You've probably seen it, but I didn't see a link in this thread.)

2) Many people in the industry allege that large chains like Starbucks will open a shop next to the competition, make NO PROFIT from the shop, but still force the competition out of business. THEN they might close up, after the damage is done, if they decide it really was a bad location. Nasty. But that's what major capital can do.

3) Starbucks tends to over-roast their coffee, and use beans that are very acidic... making for a cup of joe that has a taste that reminds me of that of the smell of jet fuel fumes.

I agree, but for the acid bit. Acid in coffee provides variety in flavor, not what we think of as a negative "acetic" taste. Still: jet fuel. Not a fine cup.

4) Do you really believe that Starbucks coffee tastes like poo?

Theroretically, Yes. If you want good coffee, find a company with a small roaster that does a hundred or so pounds at a time (more likely in Europe than the States.) Any company that jet-roasts huge quantities sucks. Personally, I think you can make as good a cup of Joe with a press pot and some Chock-Full-O-Nuts than with Starbucks.

5) Like gramcracker said, go fair trade.
posted by Shane at 11:25 AM on September 24, 2002


I remember drinking coffee in Vienna in 1961 that tasted so wonderful that I almost didn't want to swallow it. That was great coffee and I've occasionally encountered it since but never reproducibly. However, I have never had that experience with Starbucks coffee. I won't argue whether or not it is good but it is definitely NOT sublime.
It's the same with food. If you've ever had really, really good food (in Italy, say) then you understand.
I'd be glad if anyone could explain this to me.
posted by Sixtieslibber at 11:27 AM on September 24, 2002


And with your competitive coffee, you'll need a donut.

A Dunkin' Donuts owner says the opening of a nearby Krispy Kreme, it will "stimulate people's urge for fried dough and boost traffic in the area."
posted by pfafflin at 11:29 AM on September 24, 2002


Back to the whole Microsoft versus Starbucks thing. When it never end?

The Pros and Cons of Corporate Coffee.

(be sure to turn on your sound)
posted by ColdBacon at 11:32 AM on September 24, 2002


My coffee tastse like poo - Bottom of the page.
posted by Nauip at 11:37 AM on September 24, 2002


OK, I'd like to clarify that. I don't drink coffee, and I'd certainly never drink THAT coffee. I was just countering starvingartist's comments.
posted by Nauip at 11:39 AM on September 24, 2002


Also discussed in this thread, Nauip, and it was disgusting then, too. Ick.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:49 AM on September 24, 2002


However, if you're in a backwater town, or somewhere in the midwest, Starbucks is fairly likely to slaughter you

If you read closely, the coffeeshops mentioned in the article are mostly in the Kansas City and Chicago areas, which are both in the Midwest. The argument the authors make is that Starbucks helped make coffee a national obsession, not just a regional one, which helped out the entire industry. As others have said, many independents did succumb, because they were lousy coffeeshops.

It's been my experience that the battle between Starbucks and indies is a lot The Force; what doesn't kill the indies makes them stronger. Every shop I've known that's had a Starbucks open up nearby has done better, if only because the customers didn't want their fav hang-out to close.
posted by me3dia at 11:54 AM on September 24, 2002


If you want good coffee, find a company with a small roaster that does a hundred or so pounds at a time (more likely in Europe than the States.)

Those places are around and they are worth looking for. I buy beans from a guy who will custom roast as little as a pound at a time. If I can find a place like that in Syracuse NY, there's probably somebody similar near you.

And I'll agree that Starbucks over-roasts. I don't know that they really raised the bar. Seems to me that Dunkin' Donuts has always had a better cup of coffee than Starbucks (but maybe the donuts just make it seem that way).
posted by maurice at 11:58 AM on September 24, 2002


We are getting a Starbucks in the town I live in. People in town aren't just worried about the competition to the existing coffee shops, but also the idea of the downtown becoming a host to numerous big chains and our money leaving town for some corporate profits. The four independant coffee shops have banded together, and it will be interesting if they are successful. Here is a shop that is successful and the owner's opinion on how to compete.
posted by Eekacat at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2002


Maybe the WSJ would/should have read how Starbucks has become the giant. I was reading the article on the train in to work and of the dozen or so people on the train one had Starbucks while four others had what I'm guessing is home brewed mugs of coffee while most drank nothing. I asked the guy why Starbucks? and he thought it easy to pick up on the way into work, so maybe location is everything rather than taste.
posted by brent at 12:07 PM on September 24, 2002


I own a coffeehouse so this touches a nerve. I can't complain about Starbucks, it was watching them do well which made me think about opening an independent.

What Starbucks, or any big formulaic chain does to a market is complex but in summary it shifts power from the producer to the consumer. The comments above about stepping up to the mark or going under are spot on - but realise that this process of stepping up involves a certain copying and levelling process. Sometimes that's good, suppliers which specialise in bad product and poor service are history, but don't be surprised if, after a Starbucks opens in your town, the local independent starts to look and feel a bit more like a Starbucks clone. They're under pressure, on costs, on service, on product range, expectations and choice. The beneficiaries are the interior designers, couch makers, graphic and sign artists etc, the losers are our commodity suppliers.

This is now a major problem in the coffee industry. There are thousands of articles wondering why coffee producers are starving - none of them coming up with terribly convincing answers - but this shift from supplier to consumer is part of it. It affects us all because in life we are both. You are treated like a king when you shop - and like shit at work. Blame Starbucks!
posted by grahamwell at 12:20 PM on September 24, 2002


Seems to me that Dunkin' Donuts has always had a better cup of coffee than Starbucks...

Heh! I'll admit I like Dunkin's coffee too, Maurice. Beans or by the cup.

One more trick: buy some green beans from a local roaster and experiment with a popcorn popper till you get it right. Grind your beans while they're not just fresh, but still warm... I still haven't tried this (although I worked in a roastery for a while), but my friends have--it's not as tough as you'd think.
posted by Shane at 12:30 PM on September 24, 2002


I've heard people complain about the quality of Starbucks coffee forever, but until reading this thread it had never occured to me that they were talking about just-plain-coffee rather than something based on an espresso shot (which, imho, tastes just fine at Starbucks). I'm surprised to hear that people actually go to Starbucks to buy something other than espresso. Why not just make it yourself?
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2002


stbalbach- Starvingartist -- that is funny as shit.

I know it's hyperbole, but let's examine that statement for a second, shall we? Have you ever heard shit tell a joke? Do you really know how funny shit is?

Now, I've shit before. In fact, I shit quite frequently. And I can say for a fact that my shit, at least, is completely humorless.

Do you really believe that shit is funny?
posted by mkultra at 12:40 PM on September 24, 2002


I live in Vancouver and I am convinced that within 48 months we will have entire shopping areas of nothing but Starbucks. Things like Starbucks supermarkets, with nothing but metal coffee mugs, beans and biscotti for sale, as well as Starbucks banks and Starbucks community centres, which lack proper seating and have Frappacino in the water fountains. Do you really expect independent coffee houses to compete with that? Huh?
posted by Salmonberry at 12:45 PM on September 24, 2002


Wow. Capitalism works. Whoda thunk.
posted by SpecialK at 12:56 PM on September 24, 2002


Things like Starbucks supermarkets, with nothing but metal coffee mugs, beans and biscotti for sale, as well as Starbucks banks and Starbucks community centres, which lack proper seating and have Frappacino in the water fountains.

Yeah, I'll say it again.

Maybe we'll see designer SUVs with Starbucks(tm) travelmugs?
posted by Shane at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2002


I come from Melbourne in Australia which has great cafes. I now live in London and have found it very hard to get a good cup of coffee in either the USA or england where people are forced to drink starbucks (mainly because they were never brought up with a good alternative). I'm just lucky so many italians moved to melbourne after the war who knew how to make coffee. Because of that, Starbucks is finding it harder to make their mark in Melbourne except maybe way out in the burbs. So the point is people will avoid these places if they have a good alternative.
posted by funkuncle at 1:05 PM on September 24, 2002


I'm surprised to hear that people actually go to Starbucks to buy something other than espresso. Why not just make it yourself?

Why pay US$2.40 for a cup of concentrated shit when you can get the watered-down shit for US$1.50?

Oh shit... here come the vikings... (I love shit! I'm 'avin shit shit shit and shit!) ... sorry.
posted by zanpo at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2002


Wow. Capitalism works. Whoda thunk.

Well, no - it doesn't

Unless pushing 25 million people into poverty counts as working.
posted by grahamwell at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2002


Capitalism is responsible for the poverty of Vietnamese coffee growers. Of course.
posted by NortonDC at 1:53 PM on September 24, 2002


Gee, if there wasn't an oversupply prices wouldn't be so low. Now, if some of those same people would plant bananna trees and other crops in between their coffee plants so that they could produce shade-grown coffee (of which there's a shortage of), they would no longer be in poverty, and they'd have the backup of a second crop if the coffee ever fails or the prices drop again.

I'll repeat again -- capitalism works, whodathunk? I'm sure someone's going to 'fix' this with a market control, though. *sigh*.

On preview: I deleted most of this comment. If I'd kept going, it would've turned into a liberal vs conservative debate, and it's teetering on that brink right now. I'm not going to be responsible for pushing it off.
posted by SpecialK at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2002


I have developed a certain love/hate relationship with Starbucks. Whether or not they have elevated the level of coffee consumption/enthusiasm in the U.S., they certainly did it for me. I hated coffee, never drank it growing up, but that was because I was always given Folgers or some sort of crap in a can that had been sitting on a burner for four hours. (Which did, indeed taste like poo.)

Then I had a friend give me a pound of Starbucks Sumatra and a french press - - my life has never been the same.

That said the company has always seemed to prepare their drip coffee too strong in the store and the quality of Starbucks beans has severely declined in the last decade. Well roasted, fresh coffee beans should be oily damn it! So I'm grateful for Starbucks for opening my eyes, but I get all my coffee and beans elsewhere now. Places that do it better than Starbucks does it now, and some better than they ever did it.

Years later, after falling in love the first time with Starbucks, I fell in love all over again with Peet's. They remain my bean of choice, but I am worried that now that they can compete directly with Starbucks and are attempting to grow, that they will fall into the same traps that Starbucks did in the 90s - quality going down, emphasis on profit over product, etc.

Seattle is great, though. Seems like there is a new micro-roaster starting up almost monthly somewhere in the city.
posted by edlark at 2:25 PM on September 24, 2002


mars: an espresso shot (which, imho, tastes just fine at Starbucks). I'm surprised to hear that people actually go to Starbucks to buy something other than espresso.

in my opinion, starbuck's espresso is what tastes horrible. good espresso will have a nice foamy crema on the top. when poured into the cup used to make the cappuccino or whatever other beverage you are making [even just a straight shot of espresso] you want to taste that sweet crema first, not the sludgy bottom of the pour. rather than pour directly into the cup, starbucks dumps their espresso so you taste the bad stuff first. also, any espresso drink made at starbucks is basically a latte. there is supposed to be a difference between a latte and a cappuccino. at starbucks, they are the exact same drink. just the two cents of a former independent coffee shop barista...
posted by zorrine at 2:58 PM on September 24, 2002


What bugs me about Starbucks can be summed up
within the Holy Axioms of Joe:

It's more the roast of the bean,
and less the heat of the water.

Coffee is a leeching process,
not a filtering technique.

Milk, if used, should enhance the flavor,
but never embalm it.

Latté is wet bread;
coffee and milk is coffee with milk.

Whipped cream is a dessert topping;
children may eat it out of the can,
but it is never a meal.

Chocolate melts in your mouth;
tar sticks to the bottom of the cup.

Double cup, sipper lid.
If an establishment doesn't understand that,
they can't afford to work harder.

Coffee is a perk;
why stand and wait for it?

posted by Smart Dalek at 2:58 PM on September 24, 2002


Check out Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption. You'll like it.
posted by semmi at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2002


There's a drive-in fast food place near where I got to college called Classic 50s which has been around a long time. Then next thing you know Sonic, which is a big drive-in fast food chain moves in right next door. The idea being they were going to make Classic 50s go out of business and they'd have all of college town to themselves. Well, everyone pretty much knew what Sonic was doing, got pissed and never went to Sonic. So on any given night, you can drive by and see a beyond packed Classic 50s and one or two people who don't have a clue parked over at Sonic.
posted by Ron at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2002 [1 favorite]


you know Sonic

I don't; are they a regional chain?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 10:36 PM on September 24, 2002


Yea it's a regional thing. Sonic is a drive-in fast food joint. I'm not sure how to explain it but there are about 24 parking spots you can park your car at, roll down your window and order from a menu. Then they bring it out to you. Some places bring your food to you on rollerskates. Maybe this would explain better.
posted by Ron at 10:43 PM on September 24, 2002


one or two people who don't have a clue parked over at Sonic.

Or just MAYBE they prefer sonics. Could happen, ya know.
posted by justgary at 2:18 AM on September 25, 2002


Maybe it's like your local drug dealer giving you your first hit for free, therefore creating their market.

Then any dealer will do.
posted by dprs75 at 6:01 AM on September 25, 2002


Why is Starbucks so bad? My personal theory: I think that Starbucks buys sub-standard beans on the cheap and roasts the living bejesus out of them to cover up the poor quality. Their coffee always tastes scorched to me -- never fruity or winey or any of the things good coffee is supposed to taste like. It's nice and strong, but I can't get past that burnt flavor.

And double what zorrine said about their espresso -- no crema whatsoever.

Another reason to support the independent guys. (Or if you're gonna go with a chain, I've had semi-good results with Caribou.)
posted by Vidiot at 9:03 AM on September 25, 2002


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