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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Starbucks, We Hardly Knew Thee (Nostalgia for a Place I Never Frequented)

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 at 10:01 AM


By Meredith Brody

I’ve probably spent a few hundred dollars, all told, in Starbucks, (Faute de mieux, as the French would say), but its stores were never my first choice for caffeination. In fact, a standard joke was that my retirement plan was never to pay $3 for coffee. (And, of course, if you go nuts and order a latte or one of their kindergarten-friendly milkshake-like drinks, that $3 is left behind in the chocolate dust.)

I find their coffee over-roasted (to put it politely; burnt is more like it). But occasionally necessity (such as a movie screening when I’m feeling a little groggy) and the fact that a Starbucks was visible on my path conspired to lure me in.

But never to linger. I wish I could relax among strangers chatting, rustling newspapers and magazines, and – most distractingly – tapping away at their laptops, but somehow it’s much easier to be a flaneur when you’re on vacation in Paris than in the here (Bay Area) and now (to-do, to-write, to-read, to-watch list looming).

But when I read the heartfelt, elegiac testimonials to their local Starbucks on Slate’s story about the 600 Starbucks scheduled for imminent closure, complete with nifty interactive map, I couldn’t help but feel their pain. It seems that in some places, Starbucks is (a) the nicest place in town, (b) a regular gathering place for groups of people including knitters and local politicos. In fact, some local politicos are entreating Starbucks to keep their branches open. (And, as Slate earlier noted, it seems that Starbucks actually helped rather than hurt local coffeehouses.) Apparently Starbucks, easy to make fun of when they were seemingly opening places on every corner, is now ready for its nostalgic close-up.

In San Francisco, with two places on the chopping block, I myself have gotten coffee to go at the Starbucks conveniently located in the Metreon. (Soon to be a memory, like so many other places in the Metreon, a shadow of its former self.) I can’t even envision the doomed 901 Market location, but I seem to remember that the Century multiplex located across the street in the Westfield San Francisco Centre proudly serves Starbucks coffee, and I’ve hoisted a few there in my time.

Among the “underperformers” in the Bay Area scheduled for farewell: the one at the corner of Shattuck and Cedar that the San Francisco Business Times notes is ironically located two blocks from the Peet’s Coffee & Tea Shop, which it identifies as its “arch rival,” without mentioning that one of Starbucks’ three founders, Zev Siegl, worked in that same originals Peet’s, modeled Starbucks after Peet’s, and initially used Peet’s as a supplier of their roasted beans. What does tug at the heart: Business Times’ noting that the Shattuck Starbucks “is popular with students because it has many tables where they can set up their laptops to study. It also has comfortable chairs which customers sink into to read the newspaper.”

Never me, alas. (I really must learn to relax.) But those who could, and whose favorite Starbucks is closing in Walnut Creek, Hayward, Emeryville, Concord, Brentwood, and Benicia – I’m sorry. Even an over-roasted, over-priced coffee has its place. Until it doesn’t.

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Janine Kahn


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