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In a commentary for Public Radio's Marketplace, New York Times Magazine "Consumed" columnist Rob Walker ridicules the dispirited consumers behind the much-blogged "Save our Starbucks" campaign; those push-button cappuccino lovers who are "trying to convince a multinational corporation not to close up one of its thousands of locations." It's unclear just how big the Save Our Starbucks movement is—they have a website and a handful of petitions, many of which are signed by people mocking the effort—but Walker scoffs at the very idea of asking a sinister corporation with "thousands of locations" to reconsider shuttering underperforming stores. Of course, he doesn't seem to grasp that, unlike in Walker's hometown of Manhattan, the people of Lockport, IL (two petition signatures) might not have 20 other Frappuccino outlets within a five block radius.

But this isn't Walker's real point. Starbucks, he says, has "now apparently…evolved into a symbol of community pride and economic vitality. Maybe this says something promising about Starbucks' future. But I wonder what it says about the future of American community."

Can you imagine a similarly widespread Save Our Library campaign, for instance? Or have we reached the point that the most important symbols of community strength are, in fact, publicly traded megacorporations?

Booooo to the multinational corporations! Hiss to the megacorporations! But what about Walker's straw man argument that Starbucks has recently morphed into a "symbol of community pride?" And how "widespread" is the Save Our Starbucks campaign? And what does a caffeine addicted resident of Ponca City, Oklahoma tell us about our supposedly fraying communities? And yes, I can imagine a campaign to prevent the closure of 600 public libraries, despite the increasing reliance of students and academics on the Internet as a research tool.

But what do you think, H&R readers? What does the Save our Starbucks website say about "the future of the American community," if anything?

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  1. What does it say?
    It says there are millions of Americans who are too stupid to brew their own coffee.

  2. Rob Walker ridicules the dispirited

    I heard this piece on my way in this morning. Isn’t this Rob Walker guy someone who wrote a book about the “secret language” of marketing or consumerism or some such thing?

    Anyhoo, I have to admit that I too find it curiously funny that people are banding together to stop a few stores closing by a multinational corporation with some 127,000 employees. But some of Walker’s talking-pointesque comments didn’t really follow. For instance, Walker indicated that he couldn’t imagine a “save our Library” campaign. Of course not. First off, how many libraries close a day? Second, libraries, I’m sorry to say, are not community gathering places. Yes, there are plenty of horse-and-buggy types at NPR who so desperately want to believe they are, but they ain’t. People gather at coffee shops and the like. And yes, even a Starbucks might generate a palpable sense of nostalgia if it closes. You know, just like that indy place on the corner with all the hipper-than-thou kidz with cool haircuts that gave you the attitude and really crappy service.

    Ed: I take it you’re from the east and drink drip coffee?

    My neighbor is a financial analyst for Starbucks and he said that drip coffee sells heavily in the Eastern stores.

  3. What does the Save our Starbucks website say about “the future of the American community,” if anything?

    It says that there are a lot of people who think coffee-flavored milkshakes are not, in fact, milkshakes.

    Also – and I’m only saying this because I care – there are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market today that are just as tasty as the real thing.

  4. Why should Sbux support loss-leaders and provide coffee welfare in some communities? Answer: Sbux shouldn’t.

    Of course this could be an opportunity for some enterprising individuals to open a competing coffee shop in the former sbux locations and give it a go. If the community in question really wants it, let them patronize it. Who knows, maybe they will finally get good coffee and not that Sbux sh*t.

    As I saw in a documentary on the Brazilian Coffee Agro-industry they asked if the rise of Sbux had led to an increase in coffee consumption. The coffee grower replied:

    “Starbucks does not sell coffee, they sell milk.”

  5. Just here in DC, there was a huge uproar after the library administrator announced that they would have to cut library hours because of a budget cut. The public outcry (90% of whom had never set foot in a public library, I’m sure) was so severe, the city council had to make a public retraction and promise to fully fund DC Public Libraries.

  6. Ed: I take it you’re from the east and drink drip coffee?

    Yes and yes. I’ll admit to being a Starbucks denier. By the looks of things I damn near managed to avoid ever going into one, except I had an unused gift card, I was in an airport, tired with some time on my hands…one thing led to another. It was good. Very hot. I ordered a plain coffee. I think I have $3.02 left on the card. I’ll save it for next year, if they’re still in business.

  7. We folks in the east tend to drink a lot of coffee, and therefore can’t afford for all of it to be at Starbucks.

    Personally, I do enjoy a nice cup of fancy coffee on occasion, but that doesn’t prevent me from treating it more like a necessary drug on most days.

    When I go to Starbucks I get one of two things: a plain coffee, or a plain iced coffee. This is just in emergencies when I find myself in a mall with a caffeine withdrawal migraine.

  8. In a lot of small towns, there aren’t many common areas to hang out, especially if you’re underage. Starbucks is a nice place to drink coffee and hang with friends without getting carded or chased out by the manager. The employees are usually young, pleasant, and the places are clean and comfortable. It’s the McDonald’s of coffee.

    No, the weird thing about this commentary is that Rob Walker is surprised about an internet petition. Hello! It’s the internet! If desired, any one of us could:
    1)start an internet rumor campaign about the Federal Mint retiring the penny
    2) spam comments and links about a “Save Abe” campaign all over the Net
    3) collect hundreds and hundreds of signatures.

    Voila, another Marketplace commentary!

  9. What does the Save our Starbucks website say about “the future of the American community,” if anything?

    It says that this community is very insecure and needs pats on the back from outside sources. Having a Starbucks can be seen as a sign that your town is well-off enough to buy $4 coffee and produce enough profit for this chain to warrant opening a store. Where the confusion lies (and this is a frequent confusion) is that they think that if they somehow convince Starbucks to stay that it will still stand as the same symbol that it did before.

  10. I’m with the Little Pig Numero Uno.

    Want to save your neighborhood Starbucks? Don’t sign a petition, buy the fucking place and run it yourself. If nothing else, maybe you’ll develop a better appreciation for managerial accounting.

  11. Or have we reached the point that the most important symbols of community strength are, in fact, publicly traded megacorporations?

    We probably reached the point where empty storefronts and deserted strip malls were not good symbols of community strength many, many decades ago.

    There are two types of towns without a Starbucks – places too cool for Starbucks, and places too shitty for Starbucks. People know this, so if their Starbucks is closing and they don’t think it’s for reason #1, they panic. Why is that hard to understand.

  12. Also, screw Marketplace Morning Report and fire Scott Jagow. He’s as dumb as they come.

  13. I’m waiting for the same folks who decried the Starbucks expansion to call them heartless for destroying American jobs.

  14. I can’t imagine why a company which puts shops across the street from one another would suddenly decide they have too many locations.

    Serious inquiry:
    Are all Starbucks shops corporate-owned, or are there franchisees? I’m assuming they are only closing corporate shops, and not putting franchisees out of business (*that* would be messy).

  15. What does the Save our Starbucks website say about “the future of the American community,” if anything?

    I don’t think it says anything about “American community,” whatever that is. It says there are some people who like Starbucks, and some of those people are willing to attest to that fact with a signature.

  16. And- when you become the owner of your very own “Starbucks” you will get to think about whether you want a lot of non-revenue-generating lollygaggers cluttering up the place.

  17. Episiarch: excellent cultural reference. A real classic!

    (Let me take this moment to compliment you on your fashion sense, particularly your slippers.)

  18. Starbucks does not franchise

  19. You know what would be really funny? If they started putting Starbucks inside Wal-Marts.
    The well-heeled latte mafia would positively despair.

  20. To my knowledge, they’re all corporate owned. The only exceptions are when they license to places like airports and college campuses.

  21. I wonder if Bob Barr signed the petition? He apparently runs on the stuff.

  22. They don’t franchise- interesting.
    thanks

  23. “community pride”

    I wouldn’t mind if they opened a Starbucks down the street from me, maybe there’d be less graffiti activity down the street if one did.

  24. Having a Starbucks can be seen as a sign that your town is well-off enough to buy $4 coffee and produce enough profit for this chain to warrant opening a store

    There was an article in the Chicago Tribune recently about Starbucks closing locations in poorer neighborhoods. Apparently, the stores where a source of pride. An indication that your formerely(?) economically depressed neighborhood was now starting to grow and become desirable once again.

    Here in the Loop, there really is a Starbucks every 1.5 blocks. I hope the stores in the poorer neighborhoods manage to stay open.

  25. There are two types of towns without a Starbucks – places too cool for Starbucks, and places too shitty for Starbucks.[…]if their Starbucks is closing and they don’t think it’s for reason #1, they panic. Why is that hard to understand.

    Well played, Fluffy, well played.

  26. ed:

    In my area the Target stores have Starbucks inside of them.

    And as for the coffee… Starbucks is over-roasted beans that taste of char. If you really like coffee, drop $150 on a coffee roaster. Green beans cost about half the cost of pre-roasted beans, and keep for a long time. Nothing is better then coffee roasted the night before, and ground right before the water hits it.

    Nephilium

  27. Here in the Loop, there really is a Starbucks every 1.5 blocks. I hope the stores in the poorer neighborhoods manage to stay open.

    Dunno. tough call. Starbucks is the kind of place that truly caters to those with disposable income. It’s the ultimate ‘perk’…if you will. I’m saving that one. Anyway…

    The poorest people are realistically going to be the first to dump starbucks in tough times. When buying a starbucks can make the difference between putting gas in your car or not, putting off the half-caf-double-decaf with a twist of lemon is an easy choice.

  28. It means that people like good coffee and they don’t care whether a chain or some local place is providing it.

  29. If your “community” really uses the Starbucks, then you shouldn’t have to worry. If you just like having it in the neighborhood but it doesn’t actually turn a profit, then it’s not really a part of your “community” anyway. The only “petition” needed in a free market is positive revenue. If you think Starbucks is wrong for closing it in your neighborhood, then start your own coffee shop if you think there is a market it for it.

  30. And as for the coffee… Starbucks is over-roasted beans that taste of char.

    Nephilium, in the early days of Starbucks, the locals referred to it as “Charbucks”

  31. Here in Motown, we have an empty baseball stadium (almost nine friggin’ years now). The number of activists that fight tooth and nail the inevitable demolition of what honestly is an altogether ugly building*, is phenomenal. Destruction has finally started and it ain’t over yet.

    * It was a great place to watch a game because the stands were right on top of the field. I have many fond memories of the place. But from the outside, Tiger Stadium is just butt ugly.

  32. Which brings up large cities and the irrational fetish of holding on to a major league franchise no matter what the cost to the taxpayers. This is just a small town symptom of the same disease.

  33. It says there are millions of Americans who are too stupid to brew their own coffee.

    Who knows, maybe they will finally get good coffee and not that Sbux sh*t.

    I see there are a lot of people on here trying to establish their “elite cred” by hating on a popular coffee chain.

    Way to be original, guys. Never heard any Starbucks hate from the hipster crowd before. How new!

  34. The most frustrating part of this is no one has any proof that 20, 40, 80 years there were strong communities. Not any more strong than today’s are, at least. Without proof of historical community, Walker’s ranting is worthless.

    And yes, if they tried to close a library shit would hit the fan. Denver’s been avoiding it for decades because of it. So they end up with too many too close together and can’t afford to keep them open most evenings. So

  35. Hey, Angry Optimist…. I don’t hate starbucks… actually I like many many things about the stores. But I do not like their coffee. It tastes burnt to me. Over-roasted, perhaps. That could just be because I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Brazil and have developed a different preference, but still, I know I am not alone in my view.

    Here in New Mexico we have Satellite Coffee — similar concept, better coffee http://www.satcoffee.com/ and if I lived closer to one I would waste mucho time there.

  36. The only thing it says to me is that some people have too much spare time and Internet access – whether or not the motivation is good, bad, or indifferent, unsolicited online petitions do not change things.

  37. “There are two types of towns without a Starbucks – places too cool for Starbucks, and places too shitty for Starbucks.[…]if their Starbucks is closing and they don’t think it’s for reason #1, they panic. Why is that hard to understand.”

    Exactly! People don’t want to be reminded that their community can’t afford $4 ‘coffee’ often enough to keep a store profitable. There is also the idea that having a Starbucks somehow means your town is more ‘civilized’ — metropolitan… which is ridiculous, but I’ve encountered it many times… a la “this place is so crappy/redneck/backwards…, they don’t even have a Starbucks.”

  38. If you really like coffee, drop $150 on a coffee roaster. Green beans cost about half the cost of pre-roasted beans, and keep for a long time. Nothing is better then coffee roasted the night before, and ground right before the water hits it.

    So, so true. You can get really, really, small lot/high quality beans, roast them just exactly the way you want, and man, taste the freshness. Home roasting totally rocks.

  39. Here in New Mexico we have Satellite Coffee — similar concept, better coffee

    First Little Pig, hip-than-thou with the cool haircuts? I’m guessing Taos or Santa Fe. Maybe, mmmaaayybe Albuquerque. I’m not feeling Las Cruces or Dona Ana.

  40. Are there any Dunkin DOnuts’ coffee lovers who reside in New England and have driven to FLorida? You know what happens after Quantico-no Dunkies until you hit Jacksonville.

  41. Le Premier Petit Cochon and Paul-

    I assume that there are no Dunkin Donuts outlets in New Mexico?

  42. There are libertymike (at least when I lived there), but they carry nowhere near the cache’ they carry in the east. I don’t know why. Regional cultural proclivities.

  43. YAH. ANGRY RANDIAN!!!!

    HIPSTERS! PTTTFFF!!!!

    [ducks and runs off]

  44. Well, sometimes coffee is just coffee.

  45. “Also – and I’m only saying this because I care – there are a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market today that are just as tasty as the real thing.”

    Episiarch,

    Genius bro! Real Genius to be exact. That movie happened to be on today.

  46. I was one of those who signed the petition. In my town there are two Starbucks; one located in the historic train station and one two blocks away. The train station Starbucks is cozy and pleasant, and of course incredibly convenient for those waiting for their train in the morning (and there are a lot more commuters these days). The other one looks like your typical Starbucks, is smaller, colder and not nearly as convenient. The train station Starbucks does good business, but, because of the prime location, the rents are higher. So they’re going to close that one and leave the other, crappy Starbucks open.

    So yeah, I’d say the Starbucks we’re trying to keep open is an important part of the community, a place to wait for your train when the weather is bad, and a hangout spot for everyone from high school kids to families with small children and professionals. And with rents being what they are, the train station is going to stay empty for a while if Starbucks leaves.

    The other day I overheard a conversation between a young couple:
    He: They’re closing that Starbucks.
    She: Are you serious?
    He: It’s the only nice one in the area.
    She: Are you serious?

    That’s how most of us feel around here.

  47. “But what about Walker’s straw man argument that Starbucks has recently morphed into a “symbol of community pride?” ”

    ~ 18 months ago the mayor of Baltimore was crowing about how the 4 new Starbux locations opening in the city showed that Baltimore was on its way. They’re being closed as part of this wave, so does that mean that Baltimore has crashed on the side of the road?

    (FWIW – I’ve been saying since I moved here a few years ago that the best thing for Baltimore would be a fire of Chicago-esque proportions allowing for a great big do-over)

  48. This isn’t about Starbucks; it’s about small towns. Many years ago I moved from LA out to the gawd-forsaken desert to a town of maybe a couple thousand.

    The first week I was there I heard over and over again “did you hear we’re getting a Baskin Robbins?!” “have you been to the Baskin Robbins yet?!”

    Coming from the Big City I had trouble controlling my eye-rolling reflex, but it was clear that this was validation — whoo-hoo! we’re big enough for Baskin Robbins!

    Now, where’s Tully’s. They’ve said that wherever there’s a Starbucks, they want to be across the street. Dance on their grave, Tully’s! Dance on their grave!

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