Urban quiz: identify the city solely by its Starbucks locations

See the Starbucks locations and identify the major city.

The quiz suggests you can see the rough outline of the city but this isn’t quite the case. It is probably more accurate to say that you can name the city from the higher-income neighborhoods where Starbucks are located (or not seeing the lower-income neighborhoods on the map). For example, look at the map of Chicago and the relative lack of locations on the west and south sides:


In other words, Starbucks acts as a proxy for other important factors in cities.

Residents in Chicago suburb of Palatine oppose proposed Starbucks

For suburban communities, the arrival of a Starbucks can be seen as a sign that the suburb has the ability to attract national stores. But some residents in suburban Palatine are opposed to a proposed Starbucks:

The Palatine village council Monday referred the proposal back to the Zoning Board of Appeals on the village attorney’s advice so that it can review the results of a traffic study despite its earlier unanimous vote to recommend the project. The postponement also grants a request by McDonald’s Corp., which operates an adjacent restaurant, the opportunity to look the study over.

The Starbucks would make up one of three tenant spaces to be built on a vacant lot between the fast-food restaurant and Harris Bank on Northwest Highway near Smith Road. Charley’s Grilled Subs would fill the second space with the third still undetermined.

A couple dozen residents attended the council meeting to oppose the national coffee chain, which they believe will ultimately force nearby Norma’s Coffee Corner to close.

“We as a town should embrace diversity, and I would hate to see Palatine become a national franchise town if there are no mom-and-pops around,” Roman Golash of Palatine said.

Four things strike me about this story:

1. Traffic is a common complaint in NIMBY cases. However, this Starbucks would be located near several other chain/strip mall type businesses on an already busy road. Is Starbucks the problem or the type of development that is already there?

2. The residents seem interested in buying local and Starbucks is one of those companies, perhaps along with Walmart, Walgreens, and others, that represent sprawl and big box stores. At the same time, as far as I can tell from Google Maps, Norma’s is also in a strip mall. So are these residents opposed to all national stores in town? Why is Starbucks singled out in particular? This isn’t quite the battle of a long-time downtown business versus the big national chain. While national stores may not be local businesses (unless they are franchises), they can still bring in tax revenue.

3. Diversity equals having a mix of national and local businesses? This doesn’t sound like the traditional definition of diversity which is typically associated with race and perhaps social class. I wonder if suburbanites use these altered definitions of diversity because they really think that racial or class diversity is not really desirable but they think people like to hear about diversity. (To be fair: Palatine is 76.9% white, 10.3% Asian, and 18% Latino.)

4. Some Chicago suburbs are interested in attracting Starbucks and similar businesses to their downtowns in order to bring in more people. For example, the Starbucks that opened in downtown Wheaton in the late 1990s was seen as a sign that Wheaton’s downtown was an important shopping area (and had a wealthy enough demographic to support such a business).

Third place lesson from Borders and Starbucks locations in NYC: they still need to bring in money

The story that Borders is closing many locations (see earlier posts here, here, and here) is related to news that some Starbucks locations in New York City are going to cover up their electrical outlets to discourage people from staying too long:

Well, now some Starbucks in New York City are reportedly pulling the plug on that idea, actually covering up their electrical outlets to discourage squatters.

“Customers are asking (for it). They just purchased a latte and a pastry and there is nowhere to sit down in some of these high-volume stores,” Starbucks spokesperson Alan Hilowitz said…

It is a move that has some Starbucks regulars saying … it’s about time.

Some, including Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, say these two businesses provide “third places” between home and work. Thus, if the companies do things that inhibit social behavior, such as close locations, the suggestion is that they weaken the social realm as people will then be more isolated. (See a recent example of this argument here.)

But these businesses are not just providing a public good and this is one lesson that joins these two stories: they need to make enough money to keep the third places open. At Starbucks, the people who sat too long and used the free Wi-Fi ended being a nuisance to customers who wanted to pay for coffee, sit down for a short while, and then leave. At Borders, the best way to make sure the locations would stay open was to purchase more. Sure, a book at Borders might cost more but the purchase helps subsidize the cafe and the social life that may come with it.

This leads to a bigger question: would Americans be willing to pay for third places with their consumer dollars? If given the choice between a cheaper book at Amazon.com or a book at the nearby Borders, which would most people choose?

This is also a reminder that these locations are not public spaces: they are privately owned and can set their own priorities and values for the space. There still are public spaces in the United States: public parks like Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia draw attention (in this book – though it also talks about shopping malls and markets, both privately owned). Instead of lamenting the loss of Borders or Starbucks, one could fight instead for taxpayer supported public spaces that should be open to all people.

San Fran “coffeehouse and tech incubator” inspired by idea of “third places”

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said in recent years that the company seeks to become a “third place,” a space between work and home. This term was popularized by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place. But exactly how a coffee shop should operate in order to be a third place is up for debate. A new San Francisco firm, The Summit Cafe, envisions a coffeeshop plus a center for technological incubation:

With its copious power outlets, Gouda-wrapped meatballs, and a curated magazine rack featuring vintage Steve Jobs covers, the Summit café sits at the intersection of San Francisco’s three most conspicuous tribes: techies, foodies, and yuppies. Yet what separates the Summit from being just another Wi-Fi boîte is the dual-purpose nature of the 5,000-square-foot space. One floor above the Laptop Mafia, the café features a cluster of offices where groups of programmers and developers toil away in an effort to launch the next Twitter—or at least the next OkCupid. Created by i/o Ventures, a Bay Area startup accelerator comprising former executives from MySpace (NWS), Yahoo! (YHOO), and file-sharing site BitTorrent, the Summit is equal parts Bell Labs and Central Perk—and probably the country’s first official coffeehouse tech incubator. Every four months, i/o selects and funds a handful of small tech ventures to the tune of $25,000 each in return for 8 percent of common stock. In addition to the cash, each team gets four months of office space at the Summit, mentoring from Web gurus like Russel Simmons of Yelp, and discounts on all the Pickle & Cheese Plates or White Snow Peony Tea they could possibly need. Since the café opened on Valencia Street last fall, two companies have already been sold, including damntheradio, a Facebook fan management tool. To hedge against any potential risk, i/o also rents half of the Summit’s other desk space to independent contractors and fledgling Web entrepreneurs. It’s even experimenting with an arrangement in which customers can pay $500 for a dedicated desk—on top of a $250 membership fee.

Is this sort of thing only possible in San Francisco (high-tech culture) or perhaps just in major cities?

But this space does seem more like a work space than a true third place. Are there people who come here just to hang out? Do fledgling companies that come here mix with other fledgling companies to form new ideas and firms?

Starbucks to expand far beyond coffee

Starbucks, one of the best symbols of globalization through the spread of its stores and its use of the international coffee commodity chain, is looking to branch out. At about a dozen stores around the world, Starbucks has been testing the sale of wine, beer, and more food. These stores have been informally named “Olive Way.”

This comes in face of competition from retailers like McDonald’s and also in the interest of expanding Starbuck’s reach to customers beyond 11 AM.