My course on coffee houses and public life spent yesterday observing various Starbucks locations. Small groups of students went to the busy downtown store, the inner suburb location with the best reputation as a community hangout, and two successful stores on the arterial roads of Lexington, Kentucky, our nearest city.
Surprisingly, the downtown location seemed to have the happiest interactions, mostly between the baristas and the customers. This is not the kind of place in which regulars would hang around, even if there are people who come in for coffee each day. I think the tone of the downtown store's interactions were better because they did not have a drive-through. The other locations, though, just did not generate much interaction among the patrons.
If you want a timetable of Starbucks' decline to ordinariness, these landmarks might do:
- 2007 loses money for the first time
- 2008 closes hundreds of poorly located stores [including one here in Danville, KY]
- 2009 introduces instant coffee
- 2010 creates "stealth Starbucks" stores that don't use the Starbucks name or logo.