mm241: The "Wal-Mart of Coffee?" Actually, no…

MUDGE’S Musings

Before Starbucks, yr (justifiably) humble svt never set foot in a coffeehouse. Especially in MUDGE’s college town, coffeehouses were scruffy places filled with scruffy grad student types, and not tremendously inviting as a result.

Then along came Big Green. Absolutely not scruffy. Took a while to learn the slightly twee lingo; still not entirely comfortable ordering my “5-shot venti Americano,” but I do, pretty regularly, and I am a coffeehouse convert as a result. Although, mainly Starbucks.

It’s a phenomenon of retailing: their stores have sprouted everywhere; in many big cities it’s not inconceivable to pass several while walking from one’s parking space to one’s downtown destination. Sometimes they’re even across the street from each other.

So, I always imagined that the invasion of Starbucks into an area meant that smaller chains, like Peet’s and Caribou, and locally owned independent shops, were a rapidly disappearing endangered species.

A recent story in set me straight:


Don’t Fear Starbucks

Why the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses.

By Taylor Clark | Posted Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, at 7:35 AM ET

The first time Herb Hyman spoke with the rep from Starbucks, in 1991, the life of his small business flashed before his eyes. For three decades, Hyman’s handful of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores had been filling the caffeine needs of Los Angeles locals and the Hollywood elite: Johnny Carson had his own blend there; Jacques Cousteau arranged to have Hyman’s coffee care packages meet his ship at ports around the world; and Dirty Dozen leading man Lee Marvin often worked behind the counter with Hyman for fun. But when the word came down that the rising Seattle coffee juggernaut was plotting its raid on Los Angeles, Hyman feared his life’s work would be trampled underfoot. Starbucks even promised as much. “They just flat-out said, ‘If you don’t sell out to us, we’re going to surround your stores,’ ” Hyman recalled. “And lo and behold, that’s what happened—and it was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Sure enough, when I began to think about it, I realized that, while Starbucks was expanding from the one store in the center of our town, to the five or six today, at least one of which has a drive-through window, there are more non-Starbucks coffeehouses in town than ever before, many of them having opened and are still open after Starbucks started to sprout like dandelions in our suburban lawns.

So what’s happened is, rather than clobber the independents and the smaller chains, in the manner of Wal-Mart (which has for all of its over 40 years eviscerated locally owned Main Street stores wherever they open) Starbucks has simply increased the market for everyone.

It’s the law of unintended consequences at its best, because they’d like nothing better than to squash their competition. Instead, Starbucks has built their own business big time, and made the world safe for coffee drinkers and smaller shops everywhere.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Why Starbucks actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses. – By Taylor Clark – Slate Magazine

Some caffeinated observations:

  • The most expensive short-term job I ever had was located in a downtown Chicago office building with, what else? a Starbucks in the lobby. Finished the three-month gig with seemingly less money than I started with!
  • Many members of MUDGE’s immediate family do not share his preference for Starbucks; most call it too strong or bitter, preferring, interestingly enough, Dunkin’ Donuts, for example. I find that particular coffee okay but bland.
  • An example of a thriving mom and pop coffeehouse is found in our son’s trendy neighborhood. It recently changed hands, and the energetic 2nd generation Americans running it are doing very good business, if one can believe anecdotal observations of the frequently crowded store. It’s just a quarter block east, and across the street, of a similarly busy Starbucks. A rising tide, indeed.
  • Of course the other thing you should know about your correspondent is that, fan though he is of Starbucks, most of the time these days (yes, even in the dead of winter) he prefers his caffeine carbonated and cold: DMD (Diet Mountain Dew). But Pepsi has not built friendly shops in which to sip a Dew while reading a newspaper, or connecting to the ‘Net. Go figure.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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One Response to mm241: The "Wal-Mart of Coffee?" Actually, no…

  1. […] choice; Wal-Mart’s key role in the rise of the compact fluorescent bulb; and most recently, a casual backhand at Wal-Mart in the context of another (supposed) 800-lb. gorilla in its business, […]

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