August 10, 2008

Near Astor Place, you can actually sit in a Starbucks, enjoy a venti latte, and look out across the street onto”€”another Starbucks. I”€™m sure there are many other places where such a thing is possible. During the big Starbucks expansion in the late “€™90s and early “€™00s, it seem that one might not be able to escape the green logo of a twin-tailed mermaid with wavy hair. There”€™d soon be a Starbucks in everything hospital, pet shop, and hardware store”€”a Starbucks in every Starbucks!

As the mermaid multiplied she became appreciably less cool. For espresso snobs, quaffing espresso at Starbucks became a bit like eating at McDondals. For the anti-globalization Left, the old black and green became a symbol of wicked corporate, worldwide homogenization. Starbucks became The Man”€”and no amount “€œfair trade”€ could save it.

Well, with gas at over four bucks a gallon, Americans are less enthused about shelling out $3.75 for a tall cap, and Starbucks has been forced to shut down hundreds of its stores, leaving those green-apronned baristas, and thousands of corporate employees, out of luck.

Over at Spiked, Brendan O”€™Neil has a pointed piece on the disturbing amount of glee expressed by many on the Left over Starbucks’s recent troubles”€”with the implication that anyone willing to work for the soulless corporate behemoth basically got what he deserved. O”€™Neil in on the mark in noting that the loathing expressed by the anti-Starbucks crowd is mostly aesthetic in nature”€”the yucky corporate logo everywhere, perish the thought that one might purchase a cappuccino in a strip mall!

It’s also easy to pick on the big guy”€”your neighborhood joint might buy its beans at the exact same place as does Starbucks and have identical profit margins, and yet somehow the mermaid’s a fascist whereas your local shop has a communitarian air.

More importantly, on the whole, it’s simply untrue that Starbucks pushed out independent shops during its rise. From 2000-2005, the amount of coffee shops in the U.S. increased by 157%, with a quarter of that growth coming from other retailers. As blogger Jacob Grier points out, “€œStarbucks plays an important role in giving people their first gourmet coffee experience, after which they can and often do branch out to try out other sources.”€

In other words, before you can become a really obnoxious snob who rejects Starbucks out of hand, you first had to pay a visit to the Mermaid and awkwardly ask for something called a double-tall cap.


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