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Starbucks lays claim to 20% of all American cafes.
March 28, 2001 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Starbucks lays claim to 20% of all American cafes. Does anybody in this lately conservatized land of ours care on who's backs our wealth rests upon? Virtually every vegetable, piece of fruit, bottled soda, cup of coffee we ingest is produced at rock bottom prices for the corporations that exploit our neighbors to the south. Our way of life in the States is directly tied to how miserable the living/working conditions of laborers in "developing" countries are. Developing countries--what a misnomer. The only thing developing are profits for select Americans and/or fear that the threat of recession will negate the purchase of that little luxury car I've had my eye on.
posted by crasspastor (61 comments total)

 
Does anybody in this lately conservatized land of ours care on who's backs our wealth rests upon?

Only a relatively few people care. People are voting with their wallets, and by that measure hardly anyone cares.
posted by kindall at 9:28 PM on March 28, 2001


I agree. We should immediately cease purchasing any products made using foreign labor. That way they can have no jobs whatsoever, and we'll have Protectionist Fortress America!
posted by aaron at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2001


And think how happy it will make the American labor unions.
posted by netbros at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2001


wouldn't it have been nice if hat article had linked to some primary sources (like the starbucks press releases?)

I don't know about resisting unionization, but they at least used to offer full health coverage to all meployees, even part-time workers, which I think is a great thing.

from the article, their "commitment" to fair trade coffee seems a little half-assed, but I'd like to hear their side of the story. do they not serve it in their cafes because the supply isn't there? if that's not the problem, what is their reasoning?

not to defend starbucks - I'm currently not buying any starbucks because I'm mad at them for something else, thought I'm damned if I can think of what it is right now - but this article is just one side of the story.

it's just so hard to get good information. it's good to be able propaganda when you see it, but it's frustrating when both sides are offering propaganda for their side and there's no place to get a reasoned look at the issue.

Our way of life in the States is directly tied to how miserable the living/working conditions of laborers in "developing" countries are

to some extent that's true, but I think this idea is as harmful in it's own way as not caring is. there are lots of small changes individuals can make to live as responsibly as possible, and making it an either/or situation can create the hopeless feeling that there's nothing to do that will make things better.

buy organic or from local growers (or free-range eggs), use energy efficient appliances and fixtures, buy things secondhand, buy less, go to the library instead of buying books, walk or bike to work or use public transportation, grow vegetables in your own garden. there are literally thousands of little things you can do that will affect your lifestyle and pocketbook minimally or not at all, and all of them can prevent you from contributing to the exploitation and decimation of the earth and people.

if you have your own place, you can live off the grid (I don't, so the best I can do is turn off lights in rooms I'm not in. my old apartment fixtures couldn't fit compact flourescents; I'm hoping this one will.)

you can't fight every battle, but you can make intelligent choices, and you can buy fewer things and you can support local business.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 9:53 PM on March 28, 2001


crasspastor: I dislike what large corporations are doing to 'developing' countries as well, but is there a damn thing we can do about it? Please let me know if my MeFi surfing time could be better spent.
posted by Neb at 10:07 PM on March 28, 2001


Yeah, Neb. You could join a grassroots organization and attend protests that will do absolutely nothing but get good press coverage and make nice pictures of dirty hippies getting shot at with rubber bullets. Then you could stir up a couple of lawsuits for being arrested for blocking traffic or destruction of property or creating a public nuisance.

Or you could join the rest of the world that realizes these kinds of tactics do not work in 90s America and feel guilty because there is precious little you can do to stop the corporate bohwemeth.
posted by rklawler at 10:38 PM on March 28, 2001


Don't worry about developing countries; they -- starting with China, the world's largest developing nation -- are going to eat corporate America alive and screaming.

The greatest commodity a country can have now is brainpower, and America is clearly working on reducing whatever it had. A billion Chinese are going to outthink you, outwork you, outsell you, and then buy you. One way or another, your standard of living will be the Chinese standard of living.

Worry about your own country.
posted by pracowity at 10:42 PM on March 28, 2001


Excellent point, pracowity. Speaking of the Chinese and Starbucks ...
posted by allaboutgeorge at 11:24 PM on March 28, 2001


Homework assignment.
posted by crasspastor at 1:45 AM on March 29, 2001


I agree. We should immediately cease purchasing any products made using foreign labor

Erm, no. Just be aware of where the products came from and how the people who produced it are treated and remunerated. One of the first things most people go for is Fair Trade coffee and other products which can't be grown locally.
posted by Markb at 3:29 AM on March 29, 2001


Love will find a way for us to become better people.
posted by Postroad at 3:39 AM on March 29, 2001


Don't worry about developing countries; they -- starting with China, the world's largest developing nation -- are going to eat corporate America alive and screaming.

The greatest commodity a country can have now is brainpower, and America is clearly working on reducing whatever it had. A billion Chinese are going to outthink you, outwork you, outsell you, and then buy you.


pracowity: Americans already went through this, with Japan back in the 1970s and 80s. As far as I can tell, we survived foreign competition back then. And I'm pretty sure we can survive whatever the modern developing countries throw at us. I, for one, am not overly concerned about being 'bought' by China.
posted by rklawler at 4:12 AM on March 29, 2001


"Does anybody in this . . . conservatized land of ours care on who's backs our wealth rests . . . ?"

Yes. But do they feel there's anything they can realistically do to change things for the better? I'd say most don't. But that isn't a reason to give up trying.
posted by Outlawyr at 5:59 AM on March 29, 2001


Every time someone brings up the subject of developing third world countries and our need to intervene I immediately think back several centuries about the "White Man's Burden."

No, they're not exactly the same but I believe the Countries themselves can work things out.

It will be uncomfortable to watch and may (will) take generations but the results will be far better than any foreign intervention (outside of free trade) can bring.
posted by Mick at 6:05 AM on March 29, 2001


whose, dear, whose.
posted by oracle_femme at 7:33 AM on March 29, 2001


A small purchasing choice can have a significant effect:

Four coffees a week @ $1.25/cup = $6.00

$6.00 X 52 weeks = $312/year

$312/year x 10,000 individuals = $3,120,000 taken away from Starbuck's in revenue.
posted by ed at 7:41 AM on March 29, 2001


And what exactly is $3,120,000 in revenue for Starbucks? The probably wouldn't even notice it missing from their ledgers.
posted by fusinski at 7:50 AM on March 29, 2001


they even
posted by fusinski at 7:50 AM on March 29, 2001


Fusinski: Consider, however, how the message would spread if those 10,000 indivduals took it upon themselves to eschew Starbuck's. If these 10,000 individuals -- a tiny sliver of the U.S. coffee-drinking population -- actively carried this out, then it would be entirely likely that their friends would catch on, thus beginning the potential demise of Starbuck's. In addition, four coffees is a conservative estimate. When you throw in customized soy milk lattes and those days in which a smorgasborg of caffeine is thrown down the gullet, the $3,120,000 figure is probably a lot higher.
posted by ed at 8:01 AM on March 29, 2001


Why is Starbucks the Great Satan?
posted by NortonDC at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2001


Is crasspastor 'Jacks guilting feelings of global responsability'?
posted by Jeremy at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2001


I don't think the problem is whether Americans buy at home or from abroad. The issue is also not about protectionism.

The real problem, which seems to have been missed, is that the US uses force and intimidation to get low priced goods and services for us here at home.

Is labor getting too expensive? Let's get involved in the Balkans and import some of their people to work cheaply in the US.

Are we nervous about oil? Strengthen the military in Colombia, or fight a war in the Middle East.

Are coffee prices too high? Get the IMF on the case of the Colombians so they will reduce subsidies and support for their domestic growers. Watch prices fall.

Our foreign policy (backed by the military) is an extension of our industrial policy and the consequences in other countries are life and death.
posted by locombia at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2001


Maybe you don't think you can get Starbucks to change, all on your own.

But you know what?

You can stop giving them your money.
posted by dhartung at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2001


You can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks for $1.25? I sure can't. Even the non-specialty coffee that comes out of the big urn is more than that, and it's not as good as the coffee at my office.

Now if we got 10,000 people to give up their mocha frappuccinos...

Better yet, buy one Starbucks coffee, keep the cup, refill it with normal coffee, and take up space at one of their tables. Get all your friends to do the same thing and have a party. Stagger entrances over half an hour so they don't catch on. Bring a beret and a copy of the NY Times so no one questions your authenticity.

Repeat every Thursday. Better yet, repeat every weekday, at a different Starbucks. If you live in a city, you're probably within walking distance of four or five.
posted by anapestic at 8:58 AM on March 29, 2001


Okay, maybe it was my iffy grammar. Let's try it this way:
What makes Starbucks the Great Satan?

And yes, I read the link.
posted by NortonDC at 9:04 AM on March 29, 2001


All Starbucks smell the same and all McDonald's smell the same. Coincidence?
posted by dithered at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2001


All Your Cafes are Belong to . . . oh, never mind, that joke isn't funny anymore.
posted by Outlawyr at 9:14 AM on March 29, 2001


Or you could join the rest of the world that realizes these kinds of tactics do not work in 90s America [...]

Or you could join the rest of the world that realizes that it isn't the 90's anymore.
posted by webmutant at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2001


oops. my bad. what should go in its place? 00's? 2000's? Was I really missing anything while sleeping through the turn of the century? Or the millenium even?
posted by rklawler at 10:29 AM on March 29, 2001


It is the '00s (note the apostrophe, used to indicate an omission, goes in front of the number), or the Naughties.
posted by kindall at 10:35 AM on March 29, 2001


What makes Starbucks the Great Satan?

They're successful. Much like Microsoft and Wal-Mart. I'm not sure whether success appears evil, encourages evil, or is due to evil. But whichever it is, success is definitely positively correlated with evil.

Now if we got 10,000 people to give up their mocha frappuccinos...

NNNNNNEEEEEVVVVVEEEEERRRR!!!!!!
posted by daveadams at 10:52 AM on March 29, 2001


What makes Starbucks the Great Satan?

bad coffee

high prices

stupid lingo

dumb americans buy into the concept

ruin it for the rest of us

i shit in the general direction of starbucks
posted by donkeysuck at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2001


... They suck the character and charm from neighborhoods. ...

... They, like all chains, suck money out of neighborhoods. Locally owned business redistribute profits locally. Starbucks redistributes them in Seattle. ...
posted by luke at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2001


Yeah but Seattle IS local (for me).
posted by muppetboy at 11:50 AM on March 29, 2001


But chains obviously serve a demand, and more people choose them over mom/pop - isn't that democratic?

The minute you make money, you become the bad guy?
posted by owillis at 11:52 AM on March 29, 2001


But chains obviously serve a demand, and more people choose them over mom/pop - isn't that democratic?

1. Nobody ever went poor overestimating Americans' taste for banality. 2. Most people don't care about their neighborhoods. 3. Most people are dumb.

Such is the tyranny of democracy. If a plurality opts for lameness, lameness prevails.
posted by luke at 12:04 PM on March 29, 2001


Starbucks is a publicly traded company; their profits are redistributed to where ever shareholders live.

I can't speak to the quality of their coffee, as all coffee tastes like ass to me, but I do buy their little mints now and then, as Altoids are not vegetarian friendly.
posted by NortonDC at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2001


owillis:
But chains obviously serve a demand, and more people choose them over mom/pop - isn't that democratic?

No. Keep in mind the old "Wal-mart effect": if a minority pick the chain, that is often enough business lost to bankrupt the mom-n-pop. Then the majority, who liked the mom-n-pop and wanted to keep shopping there, have to shop at the chain anyway, because it's all that's left.

There's nothing democratic about it.

The minute you make money, you become the bad guy?

Potentially. When you make money, you accumulate power. When you have power, your responsibility increases, and when you screw up, you screw more people. Money makes it a lot easier to become the bad guy.

Caring about nothing but profit makes bad-guy status inevitable. Being a publicly-traded company makes it hard to care about anything but profit.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2001


Their profits are redistributed to where ever shareholders live.

Good point, but I believe my beef still stands, unless all their shareholders happen to live in my neighborhood.

Plus, locally owned businesses keep their money in local banks, who are able to loan that money to other locally owned businesses.
posted by luke at 12:29 PM on March 29, 2001


Your local Starbuck's probably keeps its money in a local bank, or at least in a local branch of a large banking conglomerate -- just like your locally-owned businesses do.
posted by kindall at 12:32 PM on March 29, 2001


Kindall: I'm talking about the cash reserves of the corporation, not the petty cash of the individual stores. Since the Starbucks corporation owns each and every franchise, each franchise sends to the mothership whatever money it doesn't need on hand, no? According to its latest 10-Q, SBUX had $177 million in cash on hand. It would be nutty to have this saved in thousands of local banks.
posted by luke at 12:43 PM on March 29, 2001


Luke, no, because you've got no claim to all the profits. They get spread out according to share ownership. Unless one guy living down the block from you owns all of Starbucks (not exactly the point of a publicly traded company), how or why would all the profits end up in one neighborhood?

Local owners (the shareholders) will keep their profits (the dividends) in their own local banks. The banks will seek to profit from it by by investing wherever they find opportunity, as it is also their responsibility to create value for THEIR shareholders.
posted by NortonDC at 12:45 PM on March 29, 2001


When you make money, you accumulate power

Sure, but not power-power, as in force*. Only the power to engage in volountary trade with other individuals, on a free-market basis. Something which I personally don't see anything wrong with, to say the least.

* Yeah yeah, I know it's possible to buy "favors" from governments these days, but the problem in that case isn't the money which is being spent, it's rather that governments have the power to do such "favors" in the first place
posted by frednorman at 12:48 PM on March 29, 2001


They get spread out according to share ownership.

Yes. Therefore, unless share ownership is spread out exactly in proportion to store location, my neighborhood -- and all neighborhoods -- will get less money out of a Starbucks as it put into it.

Unless one guy living down the block from you owns all of Starbucks (not exactly the point of a publicly traded company), how or why would all the profits end up in one neighborhood?

Exactly! And This is why I don't shop at Starbucks, but instead at its locally owned rivals. One guy living down the block from me indeed owns all of MomPop Coffee Corp., therefore all the profits end up in my neighborhood.
posted by luke at 12:55 PM on March 29, 2001


I can speak to the quality of Starbucks' coffee: It sucks.

And I'm watching the exact scenario Mars mentioned above play out in my neighborhood. I live in a hip neighborhood, with two nice locally owned coffee shops, and a fair amount of weekend shopping revenue from tourists (or even people who live in other parts of the city). They built a Starbucks about six months ago, right next door to one of the two locally owned coffee shops.

Now, when Carol and John from the suburbs come to the hip neighborhood to buy funky vinyl pants and gawk at the freaks, they can get a familiar cup of burnt nasty tasting coffee at Starbucks, since the giant store front and familiar name recognition stands out above the smaller signs and cutesy pun names of the local shops.

This Starbucks might not make enough money from Carol and John's business to make it if wasn't backed by a giant corporation, but since it is, it can siphon the business Brew Ha Ha or Brewed Awakenings or Joe Coffee or whatever needs to stay afloat. Eventually those stores go under, and Starbucks has a neighborhood coffee monopoly.

And this is evil because Starbucks knows it will happen. They know they will drive these other companies out of business, and they don't care, because it's four coffees a week @ $1.25/cup = $6.00 and $6.00 X 52 weeks = $312/year and $312/year x 10,000 individuals = $3,120,000 in profits.

So enjoy your nasty coffee, since soon enough that's the only choice you'll have.
posted by jennyb at 1:04 PM on March 29, 2001


Luke, you are engaging, perhaps innocently, in serious logical fallacies, not to mention being flat-out wrong. If share ownership does not map directly to store location, some neighborhoods will be over represented and others underrepresented, making your statement that "all" of them will get less than they put into it obviously false.

As for the guy living down the street, the profits stay in your neighborhood until precisely the moment he does anything with those profits. Anything. Putting the money into a bank will spread it out as it gets invested wherever the bank finds opportunities. Buying a car will put it where ever the shareholders of the car company live, or bicycle company, or bondholders if he only buys subway fares. Buying coffee for his shops will put money out of the country. Buying a computer will move money through Santa Clara (or Austin) and Taiwan.

And your local owner could be funneling profits to the Red Cross or the KKK and you'd never know which unless they decided to share, as they don't face the kind of disclosure rules publicly traded companies do.
posted by NortonDC at 1:12 PM on March 29, 2001


Why should one support one's neighbours anyway, just because they happen to live nearby? I know there are few people around where I live, whom I don't care much for... and I'm sure that's the case for most of you people out there.

Point being; I'd rather pick my trading partners based on merit and values, than on where they're physically located at the time. Local-patriotism by default doesn't make much sense to me. You have to earn my respect, even if you live next door.
posted by frednorman at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2001


If share ownership does not map directly to store location, some neighborhoods will be over represented and others underrepresented, making your statement that "all" of them will get less than they put into it obviously false.

OK, fine: there will be some neighborhoods whose proportional shareholder:store ratio more than 1. But some shareholders live in places without a store within 100 miles (I think such places still exist. Maybe abroad.) Therefore, for average s:s proportion for all remaining shareholders will have to be less than 1.

But it's not just profits. Starbucks employs a lot of people in Seattle, so their salaries are redistributed there. When Starbucks has a company party, it's at a Seattle resaurant.

As for the guy living down the street, the profits stay in your neighborhood until precisely the moment he does anything with those profits.

No, he won't spend every penny here, but he will spend more money in the neighborhood than SBUX Corp. will. Sure, when he buys a computer, some money will go to Santa Clara, but some will also go to the computer store and the computer salesman.

And your local owner could be funneling profits to the Red Cross or the KKK and you'd never know which unless they decided to share, as they don't face the kind of disclosure rules publicly traded companies do.

Publicly traded companies have to disclose the radical politics of their board members and shareholders? Which SEC document is this on?
posted by luke at 1:27 PM on March 29, 2001


Why should one support one's neighbours anyway, just because they happen to live nearby?

Because even the people you don't like pay local taxes and keep your local economy and culture viable.

Was this a serious question?
posted by luke at 1:31 PM on March 29, 2001


I don't like Starbucks, and I'm as much against the mallification of urban America as the next guy, but frankly, I don't see how Starbucks has such a huge competitive advantage over Cafe X.

Maybe they get their coffee and some equipment cheaper, but those costs are fairly minimal compared to labor and rent expenses, aren't they? Starbucks, at least in DC and Maryland, rents in prime locations, and I don't think they're getting any better rate than anyone else. As for price competition, it has not been my experience that Starbucks is charging less than its competitors. They charge more.

I think that businesses that rely heavily on inventory (bookstores, for example) are areas where big chains do have huge advantages. In coffeehouses, I wouldn't think it would be that difficult to compete by offering better service and better coffee.

In any case, I'm not sure Starbucks has caused all that many coffeehouses to close. I think they've increased the overall market. For a long time, there just weren't a lot of cafes around. If the market increases, and independent shops can compete, there will be more of them than there were before.
posted by anapestic at 1:31 PM on March 29, 2001


In any case, I'm not sure Starbucks has caused all that many coffeehouses to close.

In Chicago they've killed at least four in just the past six months. This is why Starbucks is especially insidious: It finds sucessful indies and moves in across the street. Other chains, such as Caribou, are not so predatory. Caribou, for instance, tends to stake out new ground or offer to buy out the indie.
posted by luke at 1:37 PM on March 29, 2001


frednorman: I'd rather pick my trading partners based on merit and values, than on where they're physically located at the time.

Right. Me, too. And since Starbucks has lousy coffee and I disagree with their values I would like to be able to pick another place to purchase my coffee. Which I cannot do if Starbucks keeps driving the alternatives out of business.
posted by jennyb at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2001


In Chicago they've killed at least four in just the past six months.

I didn't know that, Luke. It does change my opinion somewhat. Although I wonder what percentage of coffeehouses four is in a place as big and cold as Chicago.

Starbucks opened a shop in my very suburban neighborhood, between a dollar store and a dry cleaner. I didn't see how they would make a go of it, but they're still there. I think the deep corporate pockets allow them to stick around long enough to develop a market.

To the extent they can bring cafe culture to places where it wouldn't otherwise exist, I think they're doing a good thing. Of course, I'd rather someone else did it. But in the north suburbs of DC, there aren't a lot of places to sit in a comfy chair and read a book. I don't think an indie could make it work.
posted by anapestic at 1:53 PM on March 29, 2001


To the extent they can bring cafe culture to places where it wouldn't otherwise exist, I think they're doing a good thing.

And this is a good point. I am concerned most with the colorful, historical neighborhoods that make, say, Chicago different from, say, Phoenix. The suburbs have nothing to lose.
posted by luke at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2001


I wonder what percentage of coffeehouses four is in a place as big and cold as Chicago.

This is pretty unscientific, but Yahoo lists 100.

55 are Starbucks.
posted by luke at 2:02 PM on March 29, 2001


"Starbucks employs a lot of people in Seattle, so their salaries are redistributed there." I would be amazed if SBUX employs more people inside of Seattle than outside.

"When Starbucks has a company party, it's at a Seattle resaurant." No, when the minority of SBUX people based in Seattle (see above) have a party, they have it in Seattle.

"No, he won't spend every penny here, but he will spend more money in the neighborhood than SBUX Corp. will." That is far from certain. SBUX is more successful (or else we wouldn't be having this discussion) and therefore generates more sales taxes, pays more local workers, pays more payroll taxes locally, and pays at least as much real estate taxes locally. As for where the profits go, you don't know (see below). In my area there is a huge portion of the community that sends every cent they can afford straight out of the country, back to their Central American countries of origin. There's no telling where money goes once it is put in peoples hands.

"Publicly traded companies have to disclose the radical politics of their board members and shareholders? Which SEC document is this on?" Again, once the money leaves the business, you will never know where it goes. But while the money is inside the business, you are legally entitled to know much more about how a publicly traded company spends it money than one that is privately held.

"In Chicago they've killed at least four in just the past six months. This is why Starbucks is especially insidious: It finds sucessful indies and moves in across the street." What makes them especially insidious is that they compete head to head with other coffee shops? Sorry, but that doesn't strike me as sinister.
posted by NortonDC at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2001


There's no telling where money goes once it is put in peoples hands.

No, of course not, but every bit counts. Money spent at MomPop Brew will go further to support your community's infrastructure than money spent at SBUX. Can you deny this?

What makes them especially insidious is that they compete head to head with other coffee shops? Sorry, but that doesn't strike me as sinister.

The way Starbucks does it, yes. And on this, we disagree. That's fine.
posted by luke at 3:08 PM on March 29, 2001


So enjoy your nasty coffee, since soon enough that's the only choice you'll have.

Humbug. You'd think, from this thread, that coffee was an essential nutrient or something. Fact of the matter is, coffee is a luxury good and nobody has to buy it. You'll still be perfectly free to stop wasting your money on something that does absolutely nothing good for you even when every coffee shop is a Starbucks.
posted by kindall at 3:11 PM on March 29, 2001


Kindall, just about everything is a luxury if you squint at it long enough. You can live in a box under an overpass if you really have to.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:21 PM on March 29, 2001


Sadly, that analogy is pretty far removed from mocha frappucinos.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:23 PM on March 29, 2001


Well, true, almost everything is a luxury "if you squint at it long enough." But you don't even have to squint at coffee.
posted by kindall at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2001


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