Did Howard Schultz have any idea in 1982 that things would get this messy? According to the “Our Heritage” section on the Starbucks website:
“…Howard traveled to Italy and became captivated with Italian coffee bars and the romance of the coffee experience. He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States. A place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.”
Today, Starbucks is on a permanent caffeine jag. Working at its headquarters in 2012 must be like participating in one-hundred simultaneous episodes of “Survivor.” K-Cups, VIA, Blonde Roast, beer & wine, Evolution Fresh, and more. Chaos.
Chaos that suits Starbucks to a tea. Same-store traffic and comps are on a tear. Retail is blowing out expectations. A license to print money.
That “third place” thing? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Last Fall, Starbucks announced a plan to remodel up to 1700 coffee shops. Little else was said, except the very “green” statement that the stores would emphasize sustainability/LEED certification.
Starbucks was already pursuing “sustainability,” in New York City at least, in the summer of 2011, allowing stores to cover up as many electrical outlets as management desired. This was a lazy response to complaints that students and freelancers were using the third place as their only place, all day long.
The current remodel blitz will kill off this segment completely (unless they have good battery power). One wonders who else might not come back as Starbucks retrofits its stores.
Test it yourself by strolling past the new Times Square Starbucks “flagship” at the corner of 47th and Broadway. The work has been heralded for its design in every way imaginable (the lights, the furniture, etc.). Take in the view by walking east along 47th and you will note a place jammed with tourists, trunk to tail. From outside, the new “experience” seems somewhat like that of a bus station during the evening rush
Without a laptop or power cord in site.
The windows are lined with wooden counters, where you can stand and enjoy the “coffee house romance.” If you are with a guest, you can speak side to side. If you are with more than one guest, well, there’s that “chaos” word again. This is, apparently, how the tourists do it.
How successful will this remodel be off the beaten tourist path? Stroll a few blocks more to 49th and 8th. Walk past the Starbucks location on the corner and head 100 feet toward 9th avenue, where a remodel has just been completed (P.S. are these the two closest-to-each-other Starbucks in the world?).
Inside are a handful of traditional tables. And a big-ass picnic-like-table in the middle. (This is also, apparently, how the tourists do it.) Two longggggg windows of those dopey counters. Which have yet to be seen with a customer leaning on them.
Without, again, a laptop or power cord in site.