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Starbucks sucks!
August 6, 2003 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Starbucks sucks! ' The culprits went as far as to stick "closed" and "for lease" signs and notices on the stores -- using bogus Starbucks Corp. letterhead -- announcing that "thousands of retail locations worldwide" were closing, and the Seattle- based company was "making room for local coffee bars." ' I'd be lying if I claimed that I've never fantasized about doing something like this. If nothing else, admire the organizational skills required to pull this off.
posted by majcher (101 comments total)

 
This hatred of Starbucks seems to largely hinge on the mistaken idea that the "local coffee bar" was somehow better. I've noticed in my travels that plenty of locals coexist with Starbucks, but only if the local was truly worthwhile. Even in Starbucks hometown of Seattle there are lots of locally owned outlets. Mediocre coffee vendors haven't survived, funny that. Now you may not like Starbucks' coffee but the bar for minimum quality has been set. Lots of half-assed local bars are gone. Others that offer better value be it the coffee itself or the community survive and even thrive. It's time to stop blaming Starbucks for the failings of others.
posted by shagoth at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2003


Also, I've read that the existence of Starbucks in a community raises the earnings of all coffee shops, even in the cases where Starbucks opened DIRECTLY NEXT to a local coffee shop. Quality notwithstanding (and I happen to enjoy Starbucks..I'm quite addicted), it seems that Starbucks educates the consumer thereby increasing product awareness and raising the bar for everyone. It is not predatory or destructive like WalMart.

Anyway, it's something I've read. Take it as you will.
posted by Dantien at 12:18 PM on August 6, 2003


Police said 17 Starbucks shops throughout downtown San Francisco had been vandalized -- some with their locks jammed. But the company said in a statement that the total was eight and that there was no significant damage to the shops, which opened for business.
???
posted by thomcatspike at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2003


In each case, the vandals smeared enough glue on the windows to make it difficult to see inside, Tully said. They also draped the windows with "closed" or "for lease" signs bearing bogus phone numbers.

So edgy, d00d! Talking about subverting the dominant parradiggum. What's next--putting a "Mean People Suck" sticker on an SUV? Yeah, fight the machine!

Also: what shagoth said.
posted by dhoyt at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2003


Kick out the corporate jams!

Cue reggae beat...

We're jammin! And I hope you like jammin' too...

...okay, now that that's out of my system, to an extent I agree with shagoth. When it comes to coffee shops, Starbuck's upped the ante to stay in the game, and forced the local ones to get better. They also helped to create a niche that other companies are helping to fill. I know that's small consolation if your favorite cafe was put out of biz by a *$, but I personally know of plenty of places where a Starbucks moved in three doors away from a local coffee shop and didn't put it out of business.

I'm not sure that Starbucks patrons and "real" coffee shop patrons are the same people anyway.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:20 PM on August 6, 2003


If people don't want the big corporations to "take away" their local businesses, they should keep shopping at those local businesses. To keep the local coffee shop open, keep buying from them and convince your friends to do the same.
posted by neuroshred at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2003


Must agree w/ shagoth and others. Why waste time/effort going after Starbucks? If activists want to take on the coffee/exploitation issue, they should start with the real biggies (Maxwell house/Folgers). And without Starbucks popularizing the coffee shop, how many of the local ones would have ever opened in the first place?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2003


I generally hold my breath until I turn blue when my economic boycotts don't work.

I do try to support local businesses, but I'm not part of the coffee religion. Am I correct in thinking that Starbucks offers slightly better than average benefits to employees compared to say McDonald's?
posted by armacy at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2003


Starbucks wouldn't be in business if people didn't like spending their money there.

This and other painfully obvious assertations have been brought to you by the letter 'O' -- for obvious.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm just surprised the word "terrorism" was not used.

It seems to be the buzzword applicable to any unpopular or illegal activity these days.
posted by joquarky at 12:44 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm not sure that Starbucks patrons and "real" coffee shop patrons are the same people anyway.

I think you're partly right. But there have always been 2 types of cafe customers: the to-go crowd, and the sit-down crowd.

The people who value local cafes are mostly the sit-down crowd. They do so because of the sitting/socializing space and atmosphere a local cafe provides. I'm not talking about a slick interior with comfortable chairs, I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas. This is by-definition impossible inside a corporate chain cafe.

In the past, cafes were able to afford to provide socializing space, even small stages, not solely based on the revenue from customers who came to sit for 2 hours and drink a coffee, but also the to-go customers who came in to get coffee on the run. If all those folks are now going to Starbucks, because the coffee there is good and cheap, it won't be economical to provide the cafe sitting space anymore.

It's not completely fair to say that local cafes should just out-compete Starbucks for the "to-go" customers, either. Starbucks is a massive corporation with the resources to operate a branch at a loss until they've undercut the local competition. If you don't think they're on an aggressive land-grab campaign right now, you're in denial.
posted by scarabic at 12:45 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas. This is by-definition impossible inside a corporate chain cafe.

No, it's not.
posted by dhoyt at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas. This is by-definition impossible inside a corporate chain cafe.

I guess you're not familiar with the concept of the Belly of the Beast. I typically find that it is easier to plot a revolution while sipping a Grande Skinny No-whip Mocha.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2003


The coffee connection

EL PAJAL, GUATEMALA - Behind every cup of coffee Americans drink, there is a farmer like Santiago de la Rosa laboring to produce it.
Daybreak finds him already sweat-slick and bone-weary from wielding a machete against weeds around his coffee shrubs. By 11 a.m., he chows down beans and tortillas, the same as every meal. At nightfall, he and his family crowd into two rooms with no electricity, running water, or toilet and just three wooden chairs and rickety iron beds.
His coffee beans, along with those of thousands of other farmers from around the world, make their way into iced lattes sipped at Cambridge coffee bars and the steaming cups of ''regular'' coffee gulped by harried workers at home or at fast-food restaurants throughout Boston and other American cities.
Americans will pay $2 or more for a premium cup of coffee. But de la Rosa, trapped like all small farmers at the losing end of a long chain of transactions between his coffee plants and the coffee cup, sees little of it. He's lucky to live on $2 a day.
''The problem is that coffee sells at high price there,'' said the sinewy, 65-year-old farmer, waving a hand towards the United States. ''But here we suffer.''

posted by matteo at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2003


I don't really have much of a beef with Starbucks- I prefer the crazy little locally-owned places, but if people want to give their money to Starbucks, that's fine.

But I do think that some Starbucks marketing exec should have his skin peeled off and fed to badgers for the Crimes Against English perpetrated with their tall/grande/venti crap.
posted by COBRA! at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2003


a starbucks notepad project: guy sticks a pad of post-its onto a starbucks being built, puts the responses on the web.
posted by donth at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas. This is by-definition impossible inside a corporate chain cafe.

Dude, I get the majority of my best ideas walking home, through Rent-to-income housing districts. Ideas come when they're willing; the drapery doesn't determine that.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas. This is by-definition impossible inside a corporate chain cafe.

No, it's not.


Oh Yeah? All I know is that Tom Paine and "100 Dollar" Ben Franklin* didn't write the Declaration of Independence at Starbucks.

*Franklin, by the way, is the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:05 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm just surprised the word "terrorism" was not used.

"the scope of the vandalism... suggests a carefully planned attack..."

the lexicon of shrubco trickles down.
posted by quonsar at 1:08 PM on August 6, 2003


Scarabic, you make some fine points. But about the to-go crowd: the Northwest is covered with drive-through espresso joints, and to the best of my knowledge, not one of them is operated by Starbucks. You're right that walk-in to-go business is mostly handled by chains, but in built-up areas there are quite a few other chains competing with *$ very effectively.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:08 PM on August 6, 2003


All I know is that Tom Paine and "100 Dollar" Ben Franklin* didn't write the Declaration of Independence at Starbucks.

Duh. Thomas Jefferson wrote it at Starbucks. He usually drank tea, however.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2003


Sorry, I would've given a more expansive answer above, but it would be almost superfluous.

I'm sorry, but it's just patently untrue that you can't be "creative" or "radical" in a corporate coffeehouse vs. a locally-owned coffeehouse. I don't understand where you're pulling that from. Do you think the manager at Starbucks is going to come over, tap you on the shoulder and request you stop being so radical (which, having spent plenty of time in coffeehouses, rarely means anything more "radical" than deciding to switch from regular Aqua-Fresh to Tom's from Maine toothpaste, or switching from a conventional gym to a Pilates studio)?

All I know is that Tom Paine and "100 Dollar" Ben Franklin* didn't write the Declaration of Independence at Starbucks.

They didn't write it in a shabby, pretentious, hipster-filled coffehouse either ;)
posted by dhoyt at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2003


Wait a sec, a well-planned prank, which starbucks spokespeople said resulted in no significant damage is being called "vandalism" and a "carefully planned attack"?

I mean, whether you take issue with anti-Starbucks crusading or not, this is basically just something between a prank and a piece of performance art.
posted by deanc at 1:14 PM on August 6, 2003


COBRA wrote, "But I do think that some Starbucks marketing exec should have his skin peeled off and fed to badgers for the Crimes Against English perpetrated with their tall/grande/venti crap."

Ha! When I go to a Starbucks, I refuse to use those terms, preferring the more traditional small/medium/large. Does that make me a radical?
posted by tippiedog at 1:26 PM on August 6, 2003


armacy --it looks like Starbucks provides "health care, stock options, training programs, career counseling, and product discounts for all workers, full-time and part-time."
posted by lobakgo at 1:26 PM on August 6, 2003


By the way, if you're making an effort to not partonize Starbucks, you may also want to not patronize their subsidiaries Seattle's Best Coffee (not the best, but better than Starbucks), Torrefazione Italia (very good coffee, hard but not impossible to beat) and Tazo tea.
posted by turbodog at 1:31 PM on August 6, 2003


A colleague of mine came back from a Starbucks this morning and informed me that they have renamed his favorite drink. What was once the Starbucks Vanilla Creme is now the Starbucks Steamer. I wonder what they call 'em in Cleveland?
posted by Witty at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2003


donth -- I know where that Starbucks is. The tower thingy really does look stupid, but they added a clock to it so at least it's functional.

Starbucks burns their coffee. Beyond that, not much about them matters.
posted by me3dia at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2003


starbucks is the best place to plan revolution. nobody would ever suspect it, and, you can just take cups out of the trash and put them on your table and pretend you've given them money.

it's perfect.
posted by goneill at 2:07 PM on August 6, 2003


CoffeeFilter

sorry
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2003


I always used to write porn at the Starbucks -- take my laptop, buy one drink, and porn away in air conditioned comfort. Perfect for those New Orleans summers and, y'know, mildly amusing.

Revolution via porn! Everyone write porn at Starbucks!
posted by Katemonkey at 2:37 PM on August 6, 2003


What was once the Starbucks Vanilla Creme is now the Starbucks Steamer. I wonder what they call 'em in Cleveland?

Hey, it's better than a '"Mocha Danny Thomas-Style".
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2003


Vandalizing is a criminal activity regardless of scale or impact. Starbucks doesn't force anyone to drink their coffee, so those who take "Fight Club" too seriously should get a life instead of attacking other people's private property. If you dislike Starbucks, raise some capital and build a chain of coffee shops to compete with them and let the public decide.
posted by 111 at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2003


> ... didn't write the Declaration of Independence at Starbucks.

They didn't write it in a shabby, pretentious, hipster-filled coffehouse either ;)


I don't know precisely how shabby, pretentious or hipster-filled they were, but modern capitalism was pretty much invented in coffeehouses. In London and the Netherlands they served as the first stock exchanges, particularly among owners of merchant trading vessels but soon everyone was doing it. Most famously, Lloyd's of London started as a coffeehouse.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:49 PM on August 6, 2003


Yeah, stock exchanges and insurance houses sound pretty anti-corporate.
posted by NortonDC at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2003


ok dhoyt - it's not impossible, just pointless.
posted by scarabic at 3:15 PM on August 6, 2003


Thomas Jefferson: Patriot-Barista
posted by turbodog at 3:22 PM on August 6, 2003


If nothing else, admire the organizational skills required to pull this off.

I'd admire the organizational skills a lot more if they were used to accomplish something positive. I don't know WHAT they expected to accomplish or what point they were trying to make, but the public isn't likely to be supportive or sympathetic to a bunch of hooligans no matter what cause they espouse - see the history of any movement that resorted to such tactics, such as the sufragettes in Edwardian England. An Emily Davies martyred herself by throwing herself in front of the King's horse on Derby Day - and achieved nothing at all thereby.

And inpHilltr8r, taz will be very cross that you beat him to it....
posted by orange swan at 3:32 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm talking about a social atmosphere where ideas and creativity can flourish, including radical ideas.

I have been in quite a few coffee houses, both Starbucks and local varieties, and I have yet to see or hear anything radical at any of them. (Unless of course you consider loudly griping about GW and Republicans in general to be radical; I don't.)

Although Katemonkey's porn-writing does seem pretty subversive. Mmm, porn.
posted by deadcowdan at 3:50 PM on August 6, 2003


*cough cough* boston *cough * tea party...

I don't know where you live, orange swan, but in the SF area, a business suffers at least a little from being perceived as "too corporate."

Starbucks does well out here, but it would do a lot better if so many people didn't despise it. Like it or not, this stunt does call attention to the point of view that Starbucks is a centralized large-scale corporation, not a local business.

The breeding bovines of the economy won't care, but they're hardly the trendsetters every big corporation wants to score marketing points with. These vandals are executing their own marketing campaign, with no budget. Good for them. They didn't hurt anyone.

Jeez, get some religion people. Starbucks coffee is corporate swill. If you don't know the difference, there's no point arguing with you. Just put your head back in the trough and keep suckin' it down.
posted by scarabic at 3:51 PM on August 6, 2003


You're a fucking idiot.
posted by Stan Chin at 4:20 PM on August 6, 2003


Well, Stan, you're not the first to think so, although your argument is underdeveloped.
posted by scarabic at 4:33 PM on August 6, 2003


No, Stan is right.

Good for them??? Why? what did they accomplish, other than stroking their own sense of outrage? It was a childish prank which, while apparently not destructive, did nothing to change anybody's minds, which is I hope why these people are doing this stuff to begin with. While it's a long way down my list of things that irritate me, I don't find it particularly amusing either.

Starbucks coffee is corporate swill. If you don't know the difference, there's no point arguing with you

Oh, so it's not just bad coffee, it's corporate as well? Exactly how does "corporate" modify the flavor?

Just put your head back in the trough and keep suckin' it down.

Put your head back into your Adbusters back-issues and leave those of us who enjoy coffee the beverage (as opposed to coffee the creativity-flourisher, which tastes suspiciously like bullshit) alone.


posted by deadcowdan at 4:49 PM on August 6, 2003


Yeah, stock exchanges and insurance houses sound pretty anti-corporate.

He said radical, which these most certainly were back in the day.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:00 PM on August 6, 2003


Well, Stan, you're not the first to think so, although your argument is underdeveloped.

It wasn't an argument, it was an observation, as if you stuck your arm out and someone said, "hey, that's an arm." One doesn't need to argue things that can be plainly observed.
posted by kindall at 5:05 PM on August 6, 2003


to the defender's of scarabic's "Corporate Swill" -

It's like this - some people like a world that has some color and texture. We like it when different places look different, smell different, and taste different. We like when the art on the walls was done by the guy who lives down the street. We don't mind if the coffee was a little stronger yeterday than it is today. In general, these are the things that give value to our world. Saving a quarter on a cup of coffee does not equate to value in this worldview.

Other people are alienated, alarmed, offended or worse if their pancakes taste different in Chicago than they did back home in LA. It hurts their stomach if the coffee is not just so. It scares them if the prints on the wall are new images they haven't seen on TV or at the mall. That's why Denny's, Chili's, Starbuck's and all the rest exist - so you never have to worry about new and alienating experiences. Furthermore, chances are very good that you will get a better monetary value there than at a place that does not use industrial manufacturing line techniques to deliver their product.

It'd be nice if both groups of people could have their way. Unfortunately, the corporations that serve the latter group can squash any local business they choose. You really need to quit kidding yourself about a "fair market", it just doesn't exist outside of your economics class. So, yes, your way of life is going to "win", don't worry. It's just a bit upsetting to some people. It pretty tolls the end of a liveable world.
posted by badstone at 5:20 PM on August 6, 2003


oops. "pretty tolls" = "pretty much tolls"
posted by badstone at 5:21 PM on August 6, 2003


and I happen to enjoy Starbucks..I'm quite addicted

That's because Starbucks coffee contains, per ounce, eleven times the amount of caffeine as an average cola (*).
posted by eddydamascene at 5:54 PM on August 6, 2003


I'm just surprised the word "terrorism" was not used.

If we can't get our Starbucks, then the terrorists have already won...
posted by bwg at 6:05 PM on August 6, 2003


Starbucks coffee contains, per ounce, eleven times the amount of caffeine as an average cola

*transfers tepid coffee into enema bag*
posted by quonsar at 6:06 PM on August 6, 2003


That's because Starbucks coffee contains, per ounce, eleven times the amount of caffeine as an average cola (*).

My god that's an appalling chart. It claims to be ranked by amount, but is actually in near-random order. Plus there's no accounting for the size of the portion.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:39 PM on August 6, 2003


Stickers? Pussies. Firebomb the goddamn Starbucks, then get back to me.

You're a fucking idiot.

I thought you quit Metafilter, Stan. With sterling contributions like that, I'm sorry to have been mistaken. Get back under your bridge, funnyboy.

It pretty tolls the end of a liveable world.

Yep. And apologists for corporatism, seekers of homogeneity, worshippers at the idol of convenience - you deserve the wasteland of greed and ignorance your country is apparently becoming. You deserve your permanent part-time jobs, your 'economic downturns', your job-flight, your belligerent half-wit CEO-president, your Enronian meltdowns and accounting-firm fraudsters, your Walmart-killed town centres, your tits-up democracy.

It might not be too late, but it's too late for your generation, at least. So enjoy it. I just wish you'd stop exporting it, too.

[/rant]

Now I need a goddamn coffee.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:49 PM on August 6, 2003


Stavros, marry me.
posted by majcher at 7:01 PM on August 6, 2003


Yeah come to Canada and marry me too! Nice one.
posted by carfilhiot at 7:19 PM on August 6, 2003


Oh, so it's not just bad coffee, it's corporate as well? Exactly how does "corporate" modify the flavor?

How about you actually read my post if you're going to take me on? My point was that cafes provide the beverage coffee as well as a public space to hang out in, talk in, perform in, study in, socialize in. Cafes are a site where culture takes place. Think not? Do I need to throw a copy of the Beat Reader at your head to make a point?

The space Starbucks provides is more conducive to shopping than anything else. It's overlit, overdecorated, and filled with merchandise for sale. Every single store looks the same, and the music, like that of mall clothing stores, is chosen by some marketing department somewhere and piped out to all the stores. What was once a public space that many enjoyed has been turned into the equivalent of the Gap: a tepid, homogenous, branded "experience."

I think that this thread basically comprises a bunch of people who've never actually hung out in a good cafe griping about how it doesn't matter who they buy their next latte from. To reprise stavros: enjoy your strip-mall landscape for what you've made it.

I've never received such a lot of venom without substance to back it up (excepting that whole "arm" thing, which was, granted, a brilliant and self-evident proof).

Spend an ounce of that energy and convince me that nothing culturally noteworthy has ever happened in a coffeehouse. Convince me that artistic and political movements have percolated in McDonalds' dining rooms. Convince me that no one should care that independently-owned businesses are being replaced by a chain stores employing a few high school kids for minimum wage.

And convince me that no one thought twice about the issue because of this act of vandalism. We are talking about it, aren't we?

Or keep the incredibly lame barbs coming. I can swat that shit down all day.
posted by scarabic at 7:22 PM on August 6, 2003


I thought you quit Metafilter, Stan. With sterling contributions like that, I'm sorry to have been mistaken. Get back under your bridge, funnyboy.

Aw cmon now, if I wanted to troll I'd getcha about that 'firebomb' reference. I go for the gold when I troll.

And I'm excercising brevity because really, my entire opinion on Starbucks is based on the current issue of Playboy on the stands that is featuring "The Women of Starbucks."

And if hating naked baristas is wrong sir, then I don't want to be right. God Bless Corporate America.
posted by Stan Chin at 7:30 PM on August 6, 2003


And if hating naked baristas is wrong sir, then I don't want to be right.

In this matter, I willingly concede.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:47 PM on August 6, 2003


thank you badstone, stavrosthewonderchicken, scarabic. i was frothing and stuttering too much to put my thoughts into words.

the starbux referred to in donth's post is right up the street from my house. at least one locally-owned cafe went under shortly after it opened. was it because of sub-standard products and service? or because the local population quickly gravitated to a familiar brand/logo. someone threw a cinderblock through the front window a few months ago.
posted by erebora at 7:56 PM on August 6, 2003


I think that this thread basically comprises a bunch of people who've never actually hung out in a good cafe griping about how it doesn't matter who they buy their next latte from.

Actually, it's bunches of people swinging their dicks to emphasize how much cooler their addictive drug peddler is than your addictive drug peddler.

P.S.--I am so far ahead of you all.
posted by NortonDC at 8:55 PM on August 6, 2003


addictive drug peddler is than your addictive drug peddler.

My heroin dealer is way cooler than yours. And my dad can beat up your dad, so you better watch it!

I've been in a Starbucks once or twice, on visits to The West. Meh. They aren't anywhere near as thick on the ground here in Korea as they are elsewhere, yet. The coffee is just that - plain old coffee - and my feelings about the drug itself and who sells it to me are purely secondary to the whole thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:08 PM on August 6, 2003


In addition to loving coffee, I actually do spend time in cafes, and always have, since high school. I write there, I meet people there, I've done poetry readings and study groups and interviews at cafes. They're an important part of the public space in my world. Like parks.

I guess this comment is going to make me look like a big, dumb hippie, but I would never move somewhere that didn't have a decent cafe to hang out in.

I wouldn't begrudge a Starbucks if it were the only thing around. I guess I'm glad that Starbucks is bringing something resembling a cafe to remote stripmalls and such. Some areas are so lacking in any public space where you can sit, read, watch people, strike up a conversation, that even a Starbucks is an improvement.
posted by scarabic at 9:45 PM on August 6, 2003


My god that's an appalling chart. It claims to be ranked by amount, but is actually in near-random order. Plus there's no accounting for the size of the portion.

It is out of order, but the portion sizes are listed for each.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:45 PM on August 6, 2003


And apologists for corporatism, seekers of homogeneity, worshippers at the idol of convenience - you deserve the wasteland of greed and ignorance your country is apparently becoming.

Yawn, yawn and triple yawn. What you're offering are some of the hoariest cliches this side of the baser indynews message board posts. So deeming this recent "performance art" against Starbucks as vandalism is tantamount to apologizing on behalf of corporations and actively seeking homogeneity? Bloody brilliant. Akin to the "You're either with us or against us" arguement, only less thoughtful.

If you're judging quality of life by where you buy your coffee, and what commensurate guilt you should feel afterward, it's time to seriously reevaluate.
posted by dhoyt at 12:11 AM on August 7, 2003


Don't pay attention very well, do you dhoyt? My metrics for one's quality of life don't include 'where you buy your coffee,' and I just finished mentioning a couple of posts upthread that 'my feelings about the drug itself and who sells it to me are purely secondary to the whole thing'.

Yawn, yawn and triple yawn.

Ah yes, the perennial complaint of the clueless : 'I don't agree with you, so I'll feign boredom in order to insult you rather than address any points you're trying to make.'

Explain to me why these things that I mentioned (more or less at random) in my (admittedly florid, but why bother using the language at all unless you're going to have some fun with it?) post that so bored you, why these things are 'hoary cliches' :

  • the growth of permanent part-time jobs

  • 'economic downturns' that no amount of stimulus can fix

  • rising unemployment, along with job-flight to cheaper labour markets, spurred by a worship of the bottom line and 'pleasing investors'

  • the inept blustering of the first CEO-president (that was supposed to sound good during the election campaign - what an ironic joke it is now)

  • Enronian meltdowns and accounting-firm frauds

  • dead and dying small town centres, killed by box stores like Walmart

  • a democracy that now bears very little resemblance to the ideal it supposedly holds dear


  • These are some very real problems in The Homeland of which the cancer that is Starbucks is a mere symptom, dhoyt, even if as a Canadian and an expat at that I'm perhaps less qualified to speak of them than a Real American might be.

    Your country is falling apart, and you yawn? I must say that if I were American and actually loved my nation and the people in it, and if after I finished reeling off to you a string of problems like the ones above, you responded with 'yawn, yawn and triple yawn,' I'd be inclined to slap you one right in your smug, complacent face.

    I think you might be the one that needs to reevaluate, friend, before your nation finishes its final lap of the toilet bowl and goes right down the tubes.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:13 AM on August 7, 2003


    Now you may not like Starbucks' coffee but the bar for minimum quality has been set.

    Actually, Starbucks' coffee sucks. It always tastes scorched to me -- I'm assuming they buy inferior beans and roast the bejebus out of them to hide the flavor. Ergo, burnt coffee.

    What I most resent about Starbucks -- more than the mall atmosphere being brought to a coffeehouse -- is that it's redefined where the bar for minimum quality has been set. It's revised it far downward, and it's had the marketing muscle to convince huge numbers of people that it's really good coffee, even as they're pushing swill at huge markups.

    (And don't get me started on caramel-whipped-cream-covered-mocha-latte-with-sprinkles drinks. Those people don't want coffee, they want dessert.)
    posted by Vidiot at 7:27 AM on August 7, 2003


    All right, I've thought about this a little bit, and to paraphrase: It's the coffee, stupid.

    Seriously, what I mean is that the reason many people go to Starbucks is because they like the coffee. Convenience plays some factor-- I live near some cool coffeehouses and go to hang out there if I'm looking for some atmosphere or just a place to chill-- but if I'm in a hurry for some reason, and I just want to grab some coffee, Starbucks is still the place for me to go-- it's fast and convenient, and some mornings, or when I gotta hit the road, that's exactly what I'm looking for.

    One could make a parallel between fast food places, which I detest, except for a few factors in fast food patronage that don't really apply to Starbucks: 1)Low price is appealing, 2)They keep prices low by using low quality products that aren't actually very good, and by 3)Treating their workers like crap. It doesn't seem to me that any of these apply to Starbucks. I think the coffee's pretty good, and I like to think I have some standards of taste; as noted above, they provide many more benefits to their workers, and as far as I can tell, they don't buy grade-Z product that they chemically treat to produce the familiar flavor. (I grant on this last point that I may be wrong, as people like Vidiot have pointed out about the beans.)

    I see some parallels between this thread and the McWhorter/hip-hop thread, which I was reading earlier this morning. There are problems with the culture, like what Stav outlined pretty clearly, but blaming Starbucks for the 21st-century decline of America is, well, kind of like blaming hip-hop for the state of blacks in America today. Symptoms are not a cause*.

    *- Of course, that's only if you consider hip-hop a symptom of What's Wrong In America, which I don't-- and I see the glamorization of violence, wealth, and misogyny as pushed to appeal to teenage kids, as noted in the other thread, and so not even so much a symptom of cultural problems as a marketing technique.
    posted by nath at 7:36 AM on August 7, 2003


    To keep the local coffee shop open, keep buying from them and convince your friends to do the same.

    If only it were that simple. If the new Starbucks next door pulls away even one out of five people who might have gone to the local independent shop, that's probably enough loss of income to put the local place out of business. If they attract a third of the local shop's former customers, it's a certainty - even though the majority still prefer the independent shop. Starbucks can afford to run a store at a loss for a few months while it gets started; can the independent store's owner put up that kind of bankroll? Unless they've been turning a better profit and saving a lot more than most people can manage, no.
    posted by Mars Saxman at 7:52 AM on August 7, 2003


    It really peeves me how they've tried to reinvent the vocabulary of coffee with their "venti" this and "grande" that, so that once you're hooked you don't even know how to order your coffee anywhere else. That's just aggressive, not to mention retarded.

    It's kinda beside the point that they offer their employees decent benefits. I'm sure it's better than working at McDonalds. But when a Starbucks comes into your town and puts the locally-owned independent out of business, suddenly all the bottom-line revenue is actually leaving the community and going to Stabucks shareholders somewhere, as opposed to going to the owner, who probably lives in or near the community and will spend it in the local economy.

    It can play out a lot of different ways, true. Not evert small business owner is a good community member. But with the Stabucks, you're guaranteed to suck every penny out of your town except what's in the tip jar.

    That's why corporate is bad.
    posted by scarabic at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2003


    And that's why your post is wrong. Read the link I posted before.

    Also, owners of Starbucks probably do live in your town, as they are a publicly traded company.
    posted by NortonDC at 8:47 AM on August 7, 2003


    Sorry, Stav. I was more than a little tipsy last night. I apologize for the tone of my post.

    I think what I was reacting to was the near-accepted "fact" that Starbucks should be included (and in many cases held up as THE paradigm) in criticisms of corporate power-abuse. If you know something specific about the slaving, byzantine working conditions at Starbucks, or it's baby-killing, Montgomery Burnsish CEO, I'd love to hear it.

    In general you deserve the wasteland of greed and ignorance your country is apparently becoming.

    Any comment along the lines of "you people deserve this, and you people deserve that" is a supreme turn off. When you phrase it so insultingly to the rest of us, it clouds your entire arguement. (Apologies again for my yawn comment, though perhaps you can see where it came from).

    You want to talk about Enron? Fine. Our President? Fine. But I think tossing blanket criticisms into a thread about Starbucks is misguided. Go back and read some of the other posts in this thread. I'm actually impressed folks are being so level-headed, and by the dearth of "d00d, starbuck$ is evil" sentiments. It's become like this easy, hip little soundbyte that always turns out about as shallow as a short latte. I guess I was bored with the tired stereotypes about Starbucks, and equally so with the breathless, sky-is-falling tone of your post.

    I'd be inclined to slap you one right in your smug, complacent face.

    Really, I think that's a bit much. If you'd actually react as such in that scenario, I feel sorry for you.
    posted by dhoyt at 8:59 AM on August 7, 2003


    It's become like this easy, hip little soundbyte that always turns out about as shallow as a short latte.

    I agree.

    If you'd actually react as such in that scenario, I feel sorry for you.

    I feel strongly about what is right, and what is wrong, by my own cockeyed lights of course, and when someone sticks their face up and says 'who gives a shit, your passion is boring' I'm inclined to slap that face. But if that's not what you were doing, then I withdraw my balls-on rhetoric, and offer the hand of truce.

    At the end of the day, all I want is an America that's not evil. Is that so wrong?
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:09 AM on August 7, 2003


    Starbucks? They serve coffee in plastic cups. And it's expensive. And you cannot smoke. And their music sucks.
    posted by dydecker at 9:12 AM on August 7, 2003


    Smacking people in the face who's positions you don't like sounds like a pretty poor way to decrease the level of evil in the world.
    posted by NortonDC at 9:18 AM on August 7, 2003


    *punches NortonDC in the head*

    That's for expecting me to be consistent, smartass! You want some more of that, huh?
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:21 AM on August 7, 2003


    'who gives a shit, your passion is boring'

    That's definitely not what intended to say. I admire your passion, and in some ways agree with it, but I think your passion needs better packaging ;)

    In other words: when you're frequently coming to threads and appearing to broad-brush slag Americans as drooling morons and telling us we deserve a terrible fate, it takes my respect for your Passion down a few notches.

    and offer the hand of truce.

    Agreed. Didn't mean to sound so bored. I think it's the flourescent lighting in here or something. Or the lack of sleep.

    Starbucks? They serve coffee in plastic cups. And it's expensive. And you cannot smoke. And their music sucks.

    All true. In fact, I hate Starbucks. I'll never be a Starbucks Person, even if I drank coffee. Personally I hate the stuff. I'm a tea-man. But I can't pretend that the proliferation of Starbucks in the world is even near-equivalent to the proliferation of Evil. I just can't make that leap.
    posted by dhoyt at 9:40 AM on August 7, 2003


    But with the Stabucks, you're guaranteed to suck every penny out of your town except what's in the tip jar.

    And except for the salaries they pay their employees, and the property taxes they pay on their stores, and the advertising they buy from the local media outlets, and the sales tax they pay on their beverages (where applicable). And let's not forget that to build the store in the first place, they had to buy the land from someone, probably local, and the store had to be built or remodeled, again probably by a local contractor. And of course, if you want even more money to stay in your town, all you have to do is buy some stock, and Starbucks will start sending you some. So, basically, it's true that Starbucks "sucks every penny out of your town" except for the enormous portion that it doesn't.

    If Starbucks is sucking so much money out of American towns, then I guess Seattle must be the richest city in America. No? Gee, I wonder why that is? Maybe it's because other towns have their own corporations with national outlets which are doing the same thing. While Starbucks, Boeing, and Microsoft are diverting lots of money to Seattle, GM, Ford, and Chrysler are diverting lots of money to Detroit, and some big corporations in your city are diverting lots of money from all over America to your neighborhood too. On balance, it evens out.

    By the way, let's look at how much the local coffeehouse, leaves in the community, shall we? First, the furnishings, while they were probably bought from a local vendor, were probably manufactured in another state or even in another country. Those books many coffeehouses have? Most of them are published by companies headquartered in New York, and if you don't live in New York then that means a lot of your local coffeehouse dollars are leaving the neighborhood. Oh, and of course there's the product. Even if it's roasted and ground locally, it's bought from a wholesaler somewhere else (maybe even Starbucks!) and almost certainly grown in another country. While your local coffeehouse may keep marginally more money in your community, it is by no means squeaky-clean.

    Summary: We're all connected. It's not inherently a bad thing (or: if it's a bad thing for Starbucks, then it's also a bad thing for your favorite local coffeehouse).

    That leaves the local flavor. Some people like that, which is fine. Some people do not care, and some people would actually prefer that various places were more similar. This is a preference. There is not some objective "quality of life" measurement we can take that will reflect the "livability" of a given city. All the coffeehouses in Seattle (including the chains) could vanish tomorrow and it would impact my impression of the "livability" of the city only marginally, since I visit such establishments so infrequently and rarely to buy coffee. The socialization would simply happen somewhere else; as socalizing is a near-universal human impulse, spaces for it will always exist in a mostly-free country which ours, despite recent developments, still is.

    As an aside, I hate the term "livability" anyway, and not just because so many annoying people have appointed themselves arbiters of it, as if their opinions were more valid than mine. Anyplace people are willing to live is by definition "livable." Places that might legitimately be called "unlivable" include Cuba, North Korea, many African countries, and some Middle Eastern countries. Even if the United States were covered coast to coast with a corporate-owned climate-controlled mall, people from those countries would still consider this country a significant step up. For us pampered Westerners to talk about the "livability" of our cities as if there were more than 0.00001% difference in actual livability between them in comparison with the world's hellholes is the height of decadence and an insult to those who live in those places.
    posted by kindall at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2003


    It's kinda beside the point that they offer their employees decent benefits. I'm sure it's better than working at McDonalds. But when a Starbucks comes into your town and puts the locally-owned independent out of business, suddenly all the bottom-line revenue is actually leaving the community and going to Stabucks shareholders somewhere, as opposed to going to the owner, who probably lives in or near the community and will spend it in the local economy.

    It's like the 3rd world model at home. People can say "look, development. You can't hate Starbucks, becasue it means that capital goes into a neighborhood to build one." They never mention that all of the profits then leave the neighborhood, city, and state.
    posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 10:39 AM on August 7, 2003


    Ignatius J. Reilly, you're not reading everybody's comments, are you?

    You want Starbuck's profits? Buy the stock. Then it comes to your community. Neato.
    posted by NortonDC at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2003


    This is a good thread. Here's some context. I remember when coffee was an incidental beverage. Most adults drank it, but thought about it very little. Coffee was considered to be largely uniform; restaurants practically gave it away. In the 1980s, a strain of Europhile faux-sophistication swept urban America and it suddenly became hip to demand espresso. This coincided with the upsurge to bottled water, a previously incidental beverage as well, and gourmet cookies. These movements flowed into the suburbs during the early 90s.

    Starbucks, Mrs. Fields, Evian are three brands whose success represent an "upscale" movement of incidental products. This aspect warrants notice.

    As scarabic points out, coffeehouses have traditionally been less about the coffee and more about the community. In this way, Starbucks represents the American public's willingness to sacrifice integrity for consistency. I don't blame Starbucks for its success--though they have been accused of predatory behavior--I blame the coffee-buying public. The decline of the community center style of coffeehouse is a sad loss, and represents a change in the American attitude toward community.

    NortonDC, your notion of stock purchase as community building illustrates very well the abstraction and dehumanization of corporatizing.
    posted by squirrel at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2003


    * Where I used to live, until Starbucks came along, I never had a decent cup of coffee in my life. Now I imagine drinking "Farmer's Choice" and remember how I used to think of that sludge as coffee.
    * I never understood how much I needed caffeine until Starbucks showed me the way.
    * Starbucks employees are generally great and often hotter than average
    * Some people hate success
    * Their music indeed sucks
    * Their clientele tends towards the boring mainstream
    * When Indy coffee is available in the same locale at comparable price (I'll even pay a little more) and quality, I prefer it.
    * At the prices they charge, quit bitching and start your own business ... and take theirs away. I think I just told you how.
    posted by Twang at 11:56 AM on August 7, 2003


    It's just fucking coffee, people. Throtttttttttle back.
    posted by UncleFes at 12:07 PM on August 7, 2003


    NortonDC, your notion of stock purchase as community building illustrates very well the abstraction and dehumanization of corporatizing.

    Hah, right, because that's so exactly what I said. But I won't begrudge you whatever it takes to gets you through the day, apparently including looking down your nose at the plebes who step into a well-run, reliable and employee-friendly establishment to buy a cup of coffee.
    posted by NortonDC at 12:36 PM on August 7, 2003


    Well, your stock ownership post looked to me like more of a snark than an argument, so I may have misaddresed your intention. I inferred that you see equivalent value between having a coffeehouse owner living in your community and owning stock in a corporation that has an outlet in your community. The former is what we had before, the latter is what we increasingly have now, which is a poor trade-off. I don't see that disagreeing with a movement of economy and culture constitutes looking down my nose. I reserve that for abusers of ad hominem.
    posted by squirrel at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2003


    NortonDC - I find your two points about stock ownership and the positive impact of Starbucks on other cafes interesting. I promise to think more about them. I'm not sure how much stock you can afford as a barista, but in theory anyway it's worth thinking about.

    kindall - property taxes, contractor fees, wages to employees, etc. are all expenses an independent would pay as well. Try again. But be careful, or I might "observe" something "obvious" about you.
    posted by scarabic at 3:00 PM on August 7, 2003


    Jesus. Speaking of obvious, I can't believe you have a page on your weblog about all the great places to get pancakes in Seattle, and you're pissing on "local color" as far as coffee goes. What if they were all converted to IHOP tomorrow? Looks like it would be nothing but 3-star flapjacks for you and yours.
    posted by scarabic at 3:06 PM on August 7, 2003


    Yes, and if I had a page about great coffee in Seattle, which I wouldn't of course, it would probably have a list of all the great independent coffeehouses in the area. Which still exist in great numbers despite Starbucks. So if Starbucks is driving the independents out of business, they are doing a terrible job of it.

    (You will also notice that one of the two five-star places on my panckace review page is... a chain. If every pancake house in Seattle was replaced with an Original Pancake House, I don't think anyone would cry too much.)
    posted by kindall at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2003


    scarabic: i think the point was that Starbucks, et al are not hermetically sealed money-removal boxes. The money they generate for their community is not insignificant and the differential between locally-owned coffee shops and Starbucks is probably not that large as a percentage of their revenues (profits and franchise fees, anything else?). 23.5%? So around a quarter of revenue is leaving the community, and the way to benefit from that quarter is to own Starbucks stock, which, for all I know, they give the baristas options. OK, it looks like they do. "Employees consider the stock option plan as one of the most rewarding elements of the Starbucks benefits package."

    full disclosue: i'm any thoroughly addicted to caffeine, but will avoid patronising Starbucks at all costs.

    full pepsi blue: best espresso drinks ever and best drop coffee ever.

    kindall: dude! Mae's in Phinney Ridge.
    posted by turbodog at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2003


    As scarabic points out, coffeehouses have traditionally been less about the coffee and more about the community

    Surely then their way to compete with Starbucks is to stop competing with Starbucks. Stop being coffeehouses in at least nominal competition with Starbucks, and morph into, I dunno, milkshakehouses or spankinghouses or piehouses or picklehouses or something that doesn't even hint at competing with them.

    Surely people have can community while having a (caffeinated) milkshake, or being spanked by a good spankista, or eating a nice half-sour pickle just as they can while sipping coffee.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:43 PM on August 7, 2003


    I will also note: a huge number of Starbucks outlets are in malls, supermarkets, airports, and office buildings -- places where the goal is not (and never was) to sit around and talk but rather to get a pleasant beverage to consume while doing something else. This more or less reinforces the notion raised earlier in this thread that Starbucks' core customer base is not the same people who visit neighborhood coffeehouses to engage in conversation.

    I'll add Mae's to the list, turbodog, thanks.

    If I were not able to eat pancakes at various establishments, I would not feel that my life had been "impoverished" in some way. A good breakfast is a pleasant experience, but it is not essential to human existence. Likewise, sitting around and talking to people while drinking overpriced coffee is pleasant, but it is not essential to human existence. People will find some way to connect even if all the coffeehouses go away. The fact that they are able to get together and talk is definitely a quality of life thing, but where they do it is not. (On preview: what the rapid offensive unit said.)
    posted by kindall at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2003


    being spanked by a good spankista
    Now we're talkin'!
    posted by squirrel at 3:51 PM on August 7, 2003


    So you're saying (facetiously, but saying nonetheless) that the way to compete is to roll over and play dead?
    posted by turbodog at 3:58 PM on August 7, 2003


    This more or less reinforces the notion raised earlier in this thread that Starbucks' core customer base is not the same people who visit neighborhood coffeehouses to engage in conversation.

    I don't know if anyone remembers the Starbucks "Third Place" campaign or not, but they really are trying to be a kind of neighborhood center, not just a stop-n-drop. Your first place is your home; your second is work; Starbucks is your third place. Really.

    And in the interest of balance, I should point out that a non-profit that I work with has a set-up with Starbucks where they display projects that our kids make in after-school projects on the walls of one of their local stores. The artists get free cocoas.
    posted by squirrel at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2003


    They're possibly trying to be a "third place" -- but that won't flyl. For most people, the church (or mosque or synogague) is their "third place." One of Starbucks' few marketing missteps, I think, possibly because it was hatched in one of America's least religious cities...
    posted by kindall at 4:16 PM on August 7, 2003


    I myself would be thoroughly overjoyed if the regular Starbucks clientelle began using Scarabic's and etc.'s favorite coffeehouse as their main hangout for culture and art, with their incessantly loud cellphone conversations about picking up the kids and the new J.Lo movie, asking you to politely refrain from smoking around them, and spending hours in front of the line locked in the choice between the Venetian Blend or the Dark Columbian Forest.


    But deep in my heart I don't think either group wants that.
    posted by Stan Chin at 4:26 PM on August 7, 2003


    Theeeere ya go, Stan. Now that was almost funny. Don't give up.
    posted by scarabic at 4:36 PM on August 7, 2003


    "What do you mean you don't have venti?"
    posted by squirrel at 4:52 PM on August 7, 2003


    So you're saying (facetiously, but saying nonetheless) that the way to compete is to roll over and play dead?

    Not exactly. If what you're ``really'' selling is a seat in an interesting place (ie, a hipster coffeehouse), then stop muddying the issue with the coffee, since other firms will be able to beat the pants of you on the coffee alone. Use some other good as the "ticket" to the interesting space, one where you're not as likely to face competition on the good itself.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:28 PM on August 7, 2003


    Or, better yet, get rid of the good entirely. Sell a membership to a club or a co-op.
    posted by kindall at 5:49 PM on August 7, 2003


    I think you're proving my point. "Muddying the issue with the coffee" sounds like 'since coffee can only equal Starbucks, therefore hipster coffeehouses MUST sell something other than coffee'. This is a false dichotomy. As far as I can tell, 'gourmet' coffee is a very high margin business. Those high margins are precisely what keeps the small shops open. They have enough financial cushion to keep the doors open even though they compete with a professionally managed, multi-billion dollar multinational corporation.

    Compare and contrast with hardware stores, a relatively low margin business, where Home Depot really is eating the lunch of mom-and-pop hardware stores. FWIW though, my neighborhood mom-and-pop hardware store recently expanded and seems to be doing quite well.
    posted by turbodog at 6:55 PM on August 7, 2003


    *punches NortonDC in the head*

    That's for expecting me to be consistent, smartass! You want some more of that, huh?
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:21 AM ACST on August 8



    [Spits coffee all over monitor]
    posted by bwg at 9:00 PM on August 7, 2003


    My opinions, in easy to read bullet points:
    A) I visit both Starbucks and local coffeehouses on an equal and non-partisan basis (though I will admit to choosing the local place instead of Starbucks, if both are right next to each other). When I need coffee, I care little about who is brewing it.
    B) There are too many uptight hippies here in San Francisco who can't deal with changing economy of the nation/world, and will constantly bitch and moan about it until someone else does something about it. Either that, or they start "associations" that are meant to serve their sole agenda of getting their own way.
    C) "Culture-jamming" is for assholes who think I need a new "culture." That shit is as transparent in logic as a meager boycott against a multinational conglomerate.
    D) Everyone read shagoth's original reply again, because it is still the most rational response in this thread.
    posted by Down10 at 10:31 PM on August 7, 2003


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