Naperville has 11 Starbucks locations

The recent move of the downtown Naperville Starbucks to a larger location led to a quick mention of the numbers of Starbucks’ location in the suburb:

A favorite place to stop for coffee is on the go in Naperville as two of the 11 Starbucks stores in the city are preparing to move.

Naperville has collected many accolades over the last two decades (see earlier posts here, here, and here) and this may be another one: having this many Starbucks suggests the community has a certain level of wealth and quality of life. Certain businesses can set a community apart and many suburbs would love to have multiple Starbucks not just for the money they generate (think of the drip, drip, drip of sales tax revenues) but for the prestige they confer.

Here are the locations according to Google Maps:

StarbucksNaperville

Not surprisingly, the majority are located along major transportation corridors: Route 59, Ogden Avenue, and 75th Street.

Is Starbucks really a “third place”?

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz likes to claim his stores operate as “third places,” a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg. But, do they really fill this role?

Now that so many street corners seem to have a Starbucks, has the international chain truly become that “place on the corner” where people connect? In fact, Oldenburg dismisses the Starbucks coffee shop as an “imitation”, debilitated by the company’s pursuit of that other quintessentially American obsession, security, and the sterile, predictable environment it produces. “With its overriding concern for safety,” Oldenburg told Bryant Simon, author of Everything But the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, “it can’t achieve the kind of connections I had in mind.”

Walk into a Starbucks today, and you may not notice much connection going on: some customers come in chatty groups, but many others arrive in search of nothing more than a place to open their laptops and get some work done; in effect, using Starbucks not as a third but a second place — their workplace. Most simply grab their coffee and go, never pausing to avail themselves of the chairs and couches provided, while others prefer to keep human interaction to an absolute minimum by using the drive-through window, a resoundingly un-urban feature Starbucks introduced in 1994.

Starbucks’ ongoing retooling and experimentation suggests that Schultz, for all he talks about his company’s resurrection of the “third place”, has yet to hear a sufficient amount of political banter and schoolchildren’s chatter in his stores. Starbucks’ enormous scale and need to service the American demand for frictionless convenience contradicts its mission to replicate the appeal of continental coffee-house culture: how much of a neighbourhood-rooted venue for chance encounter can you provide when you have to run thousands and thousands of them, making sure they all do more-or-less the same thing?

Maybe you could make a case either way. In favor, coffee shops serve as third places in numerous cultures and their presence almost everywhere means Americans have a common place outside their private homes and workplaces to get together. Yet, Starbucks present a common “McDonaldized” experience (it may be coffee but it is still fast food and often dependent on a car-driven society) that is primarily controlled by corporate interests. Perhaps only in a society that is so privatized (emphasis on single-family homes, cars, moving away from urban problems, individualism, etc.) could a chain coffee store even make the case that it is about community.

Differences at the Starbucks inside the CIA

Starbucks might be ubiquitous in busy American places but the location within CIA headquarters has some key differences:

“They could use the alias ‘Polly-O string cheese’ for all I care,” said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. “But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn’t work for this location.”…

The baristas go through rigorous interviews and background checks and need to be escorted by agency “minders” to leave their work area. There are no frequent-customer award cards, because officials fear the data stored on the cards could be mined by marketers and fall into the wrong hands, outing secret agents…

Because the campus is a highly secured island, few people leave for coffee, and the lines, both in the morning and mid-afternoon, can stretch down the hallway. According to agency lore, one senior official, annoyed by the amount of time employees were wasting, was known to approach someone at the back of the line and whisper, “What have you done for your country today?”…

“Coffee culture is just huge in the military, and many in the CIA come from that culture ,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence expert and curator at the International Spy Museum. “Urban myth says the CIA Starbucks is the busiest in the world, and to me that makes perfect sense. This is a population who have to be alert and spend hours poring through documents. If they miss a word, people can die.”

Starbucks may market itself as a modern “third place” but in this particular case, this is an anonymous service business. I wonder how much Starbucks had to pay to get this contract…

Chicago second in nation, fifth in world for Starbucks

Chicago is a world leader in Starbucks, even if it is sometimes insecure about its place on the world stage:

Chicago is home to 164 Starbucks, ranking the city second in the United State behind New York City–and fifth in the world, according to Starbucks store data compiled by Chris Meller.

There are 64 locations in an area bounded by DesPlaines, Oak Street, Congress Parkway and Navy Pier. That’s 40 percent of the city’s total…

At O’Hare International Airport alone, there are 17 Starbucks locations, including spots in baggage claims, terminal concourses, food courts and near gates.

The South Side has only nine stores south of 33rd Street. There are no Starbucks on the West Side–at least none west of Ashland.

The common factors behind the Chicago locations seem to be the wealth and number of tourists in different locations. In other words, Starbucks tends to locate where there are more people with more money to spend on coffee. This may be a little different than the vision the store promotes for serving as a “third place” – these third places are for certain kinds of neighborhoods.

How long should customers be able to stay at a McDonald’s?

McDonald’s has been part of some recent controversy over how long customers should be able to stay:

In the past month, those tensions came to a boil in New York City. When management at a McDonald’s in Flushing, Queens, called the police on a group of older Koreans, prompting outrage at the company’s perceived rudeness, calls for a worldwide boycott and a truce mediated by a local politician, it became a famous case of a struggle that happens daily at McDonald’s outlets in the city and beyond…

McDonald’s is not alone in navigating this tricky territory. Last year, a group of deaf patrons sued Starbucks after a store on Astor Place in Lower Manhattan forbade their meet-up group to convene there, complaining they did not buy enough coffee. Spending the day nursing a latte is behavior reinforced by franchises like Starbucks and others that seem to actively cultivate it, offering free Wi-Fi that encourages customers to park themselves and their laptops for hours…

“As long as there have been cities, these are the kind of places people have met in,” said Don Mitchell, a professor of urban geography at Syracuse University and the author of “The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space.”…

But the leisurely cafe culture and the business plan behind fast food are in opposition. Although signs hang in many McDonald’s stores instructing customers to spend half an hour or less at the tables, Ms. McComb said there was no national policy about discouraging longtime sitting. “The individual franchisees do what they feel is best for their community businesses,” she said. “In the case of Flushing, that franchisee welcomed those guests for years, and it was only when other customers felt they were no longer welcome that he attempted to adjust the visit time with the customers.”

Are these businesses solely for profit or do they also function as social spaces? Clearly the latter is true to some degree, particularly in a country that tends to lack many public spaces or a culture of cafes and pubs. When there are few other places to go, particularly for the economically disadvantaged who have less ability to carve out private spaces (whether big houses or their own cars), why not make a McDonald’s or a Starbucks into a third place between home and work? Going even further, could it be that McDonald’s is one of the few public places that will take you in if you have little?

Starbucks looking to have more stores that match local design

Starbucks is a global brand but the company is looking to have more stores that line up with local style after moving designers out of Seattle:

As the designers became more familiar with their surroundings, they began to incorporate the communities’ stories into the designs. There are thoughtful touches like furniture made from reclaimed basketball court wood at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. And a brass-instrument chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the new Canal Street location in New Orleans. But even more interesting than that was the cultural observations the designers were able to make.

With more people on the ground, they began noticing things that might make a difference in not just the aesthetics, but how a particular customer might want to experience the shop. In metropolitan U.S. cities, for example, people tend to come in pairs or alone. They’ll saddle up to a long community table next to a stranger without giving it a second thought. In more urban settings, people will just sit right next to each other, alone but collectively together,” he explains.

While in places like China or Mexico City, the Starbucks experience is much more group-oriented. “People are in bigger groups, so you have think differently about the seating there.” he says. “They won’t crowd together in a banquet like they would in New York City.” This drove the designers to place more individual stools in the shops, so people could drag them around, creating impromptu group seating areas. The design in the Kerry Center location in Beijing, feels like a lounge, with a “coffee workshop” on the second level meant to teach a predominantly tea-focused culture about coffee…

Much of the mass customization comes in the form of colors and materials. For example, in Miami and Los Angeles, the design team is more likely to use a lighter palette of colors to reflect the abundance of sunlight. Southern cities need furniture that is cool to sit on, and beachy locations need durable furniture to account for the sand that gets tracked in. “We were looking at how the floor had worn over 10 years because people were walking in with sand on their feet,” Sleeth says about a store in Miami.

And for local design for all those Starbucks on the similar stroads of suburban America? The examples in the article are primarily from urban neighborhoods that have definable aesthetics.

Starbucks has long claimed to desire to be a “third place” between home and work. How much does local design help the company meet such goals? Do customers feel more at home (and happier and spend more money) in such stores?

Finally, does this sort of local design help people forget the fact that Starbucks is a major multinational corporation? Does it relieve guilt about patronizing Starbucks compared to a local establishment?