Thursday, January 31, 2008

Starbucks drops out of "Third Place"

Here at ground level in Hillsdale, it comes as no surprise that Starbuck’s is in trouble.

For several years, I’ve used the price of a latté at Starbucks as the basic currency for discretionary spending. To persuade a majority of folks in Hillsdale to tax themselves for undergrounding utilities in the Town Center, I paraded out the cost to each household in terms of Starbucks lattés. “For the price of two lattés a month for the next eight years, we can get rid of overhead blight of wires, garbage-can-sized transformers and poles,” I wrote.

People had no problem with the thought of giving up two lattés a month. A majority approved the undergrounding plan. Unfortunately, the city council shot it down for reasons I won't go into here, but they had nothing to do with lattés or Starbucks.

The point is that a latté, or whatever overpriced coffee drink Starbucks is pouring, is dispensable. If you buy three of these concoctions a week, as many do, it will cost you $10 minimum. That’s $520 a year.

So when the economy starts to tank and you are looking for ways to trim the budget, dispensing with visits to Starbucks is an obvious choice.

But there’s more. Starbucks increasingly has transformed its “third place” (home, office, Starbucks) into, well, just another store packed with branded, non-essential consumer enticements.

What Starbucks, and any other businesses for that matter, needs to do in a place like Hillsdale is make its store an integral part of the community.

It can begin with its name. Downplay “Starbucks” and play up “Hillsdale.” The local Hillsdale store works within the parameters set by “corporate.” When we have a community event, like the book sale or the pancake breakfast, we can count on the Hillsdale Starbucks to donate coffee.

But those occasional events aren’t going to seal the deal.

If you want to see how you get close to community in Hillsdale, look at Starbucks’ next-door neighbor, Baker & Spice. In a brief two plus years, the bakery-cum-coffee spot has become the “third place” of choice for most of us.

Why’s that?

First of all, Baker & Spice isn’t selling corporate accessories. The owners are on-site. You can watch the process of culinary creation (baking) as you wait to be served. Many of the tables are communal. Every manner of local communication is given a place along the sideboards. Local art adorns the walls. They’ve even named a bread after Hillsdale.

You may not own the place, but you know that somebody you know, or could know, does. And that somebody cares about Hillsdale. Ergo: I’ll spend my discretionary coffee money at Baker & Spice — even in the teeth of a recession.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I concur with your assessment of the harmonius feel of a local, independent coffee house versus the incongruous nature of the colossus in the small town.

Here in your sister village, we have a parallel situation - Starbucks and Village Coffee. VC has all the charm and amiability that I enjoy about Multnomah. In addition it boasts of local news and art as well as really good coffee. On the other hand, Starbucks is, well, Starbucks.

When Village Coffee first opened about fourteen years ago, I thought it's chances of succeeding next to the giant were slim. Today it is still going strong. There are two distinct types of patron that frequent each establishment. I guess you know where I sip my joe.

5:30 PM  

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