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Starbucks in Philadelphia


Alex
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An excellent article, the cover story from PhiladelphiaWeekly's Dec. 10-16 issue.

Here

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Thank you Alex - this really is an excellent article - probably one of the best I've read that details not only the history behind Starbucks phenomenal growth but also the issue of competition.

The good news is that unlike mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, who can crush the little guy simply by offering larger inventory and lower prices, Starbucks has to compete, to some extent, in the quality arena. As more people become attuned to and appreciative of real quality coffee and espresso, independent cafes are ideally positioend to not only retain their market share when Starbucks comes to their neighborhood but actually increase their volume. Starbucks won't go away but it's not about to drive well run independent cafes out of business any more than Applebee's is going to drive out a good locally owned and operated restaurant that offers good food.

The biggest issue, as always, is educating the consumer.

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Interesting article.

I remember reading an interview with a Starbuck's strategist who said that a basic premise of its expansion philosophy (which justifies the existence of a Starbuck's on every corner) is that "no one crosses the street to buy coffee." This seems to be supported if modified to be "no one crosses the street for inferior coffee" or even possibly "no one crosses the street for Starbuck's coffee" (depending on the availability of viable alternatives in the well-made coffee arena). As refelected in the article, clients of the established, quality java purveyors seem to continue to support those stores despite the Starbuck's presence.

Knowledge is good.

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Points well made. I think that is very true about people going out of their way. I'll hop in the car and drive many miles to visit a cafe with excellent espresso and good atmosphere. Starbucks is where I stop when it's convenient.

When I worked in NYC and walked from 42nd Street to 34th each morning on the way to work, there were four Starbucks in that short stretch - all of them busy every day. NYC is dying for good independent espresso cafe operators but the cost of doing business may be a factor that keeps them out. Regardless, most of those that are already there are not doing a good job of producing quality product - the majority are as good as Starbucks at best and often inferior.

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I have several feelings about Starbucks. On one hand, you have Starbucks along with countless other chain stores homogenizing America. As a country, our downtowns are melting away to strip malls with the same mega stores. We are losing the mom and pop stores, regional uniqueness and money leaves our local economies and goes to the corporate headquarters.

But who is to blame for this? Americans (on the whole but not the case with most members of this site) want their brand names, big portions and low prices. The democratization of America and the repeatable experience is what the country (on the whole) is about. We are the definitive consumer culture.

Starbucks offers a brand that people can subscribe to and belong to. The Starbucks "experience" is in essence a repeatable, daily group ritual; within this experience, members even have their own language. Starbucks has succeded at marketing this experience and creating an added value in belonging to and consuming their brand. Its scarily brilliant.

The one very positive thing that independent coffee shops should appreciate from Starbucks is that as a national brand, it has introduced and trained many americans to think about coffee beyond the normal swill and to pay full price for a "hand-crafted beverage."

But Starbucks isn't necessarily the boogie man. Yes they throw their weight around, but independent stores need to take some responsibility and initiative. The smaller stores must accept the reality of corporate coffee and capitalize on their own size. Should we feel bad for an independent store if the quality of their product or service is poor and they can't compete? Independent coffee stores need to acknowledge their competition and rise to the challenge. Starbucks must lower the overall quality of their product to maintain consistency from store to store. Independent cafes can succeed if they invest in their success: high quality coffee and professional service, fair pricing. Moreover, the local businesses need to support and promote the local business community. As consumers we must continue to vote with our dollars.

Sorry for the long winded speech. The bottom line is that, yes, Starbucks is pretty ruthless about capturing marketshare. But the good, independent cafes in Philadelphia (or wherever) will succeed if they continue to serve their customers well.

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  • 3 years later...

Four years out, I can report that the independent coffee houses in Philadelphia are doing no worse for Starbucks' presence.

Indeed, it's not all that unusual to find a really good independent (La Colombe, e.g.) or local chain (Bucks County Coffee, Brew Ha Ha! [which sources from La Colombe]) just down the block or on the next corner from a Starbucks, and both have plenty of customers.

What Starbucks has managed to do is grow the market for better quality coffee in general along with their own growth and expansion. This may be as close to a win-win situation as you will find in retailing.

Starbucks the company I admire and respect. Starbucks the coffee I don't care for all that much, though I won't refuse it if offered. Their tea (Tazo) is quite good, though.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Starbucks Philadelphia lost me as soon as they changed from real espresso machines to automated machines that both are consistently inconsistent and lack the soul of a barista.

On the other hand, by opening down the block from La Colombe on 19th they twice benefited me. My company did the new hours sign for La Colombe and La Colombe has expanded their hours to 7 PM, taking all sorts of pressure off my late afternoons.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Dudes.... (and dudettes).... please tell me that you have visited Chestnut Hill Coffee to try some of John Hornall's fine coffee and espresso drinks. He had a great reputation in Seattle when Hines Public Market Coffee was still open. I've heard from reliable sources that he's doing a terrific job up there in Germantown.

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Dudes....  (and dudettes)....  please tell me that you have visited Chestnut Hill Coffee to try some of John Hornall's fine coffee and espresso drinks.  He had a great reputation in Seattle when Hines Public Market Coffee was still open.  I've heard from reliable sources that he's doing a terrific job up there in Germantown.

i haven't been there yet, but i have stopped in at the beauty shop cafe at 20th & fitzwater a few times now, and they get their coffee from there. they pull a short, intense espresso.

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Indeed, it's not all that unusual to find a really good independent (La Colombe, e.g.) or local chain (Bucks County Coffee, Brew Ha Ha! [which sources from La Colombe]) just down the block or on the next corner from a Starbucks, and both have plenty of customers.

That's the truth. On Main St. there's a La Colombe, Bucks County Coffee Co., Starbucks, and now Mug Shots all within a 60 second radius of each other. Bucks is always mobbed with people on laptops, and La Colombe and Starbucks always look like they're doing a brisk business. Mug Shots is on a side street so they get slightly less foot traffic. If I had to guess, I'd say Starbucks gets a nice boost in the morning because it's the closest to the train station.

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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