This is a longread, an article targeted at developing a larger theme. Quite honestly, it’s supposed to be good for SEO as well (Search Engine Optimization). I know it’s a bit over the top, but I’d rather focus on something fun and local, than on everything I’m involved with during this whirlwind week. We are excited about our new venture, but I’m also fairly happy to see a Starbucks cafe in town.
I’m addressing some questions around town since the announcement that Starbucks would be opening, and then I’ll raise some ethical questions, although I certainly don’t have all the answers. On Monday, September 23, 2019 Starbucks opened its first cafe in Traverse City, Michigan. There are in fact two other locations in town (Target and Meijer on Division). So let’s deal with that first.
i. Cafe vs. Kiosk
When I travel I always look for cafes for one primary reason. Cafes are owned, managed, and operated directly by Starbucks.
Little shops or kiosks in Target, Meijer, or other grocery stores are managed by the store. There may be some minor differences between kiosks and shops in a store, however both models are managed by the store. Starbucks also has options for businesses who only want to brew the coffee, such as the cafeteria in Munson.
This is public information. So at any point at a grocery store kiosk, the barista may only work at Starbucks one day a week, but in the deli the rest of the week. Certainly there are standards to maintain in order to serve Starbucks at a grocery store. However, I have noted differences between a grocery store and a Starbucks cafe.
Other perks of a cafe include, but are not limited to, brewing options like the French Press or Pour Over. I’ve overheard baristas disagree as to whether or not the French Press or the Pour Over is the best brewing method overall. Both options are available at a cafe, but may or may not be available at a kiosk.
You can also dine-in if you like. You can ask for cafe mugs, dishes, and silverware for the pastries.
If you’re part of a business, there are deals for large thermal containers or insulated boxes of coffee for an event. There are sometimes deals for pastries as well.
I’m sure I’m missing a lot of perks with a cafe, but just drop into one and you’ll notice some differences.
ii. Some Issues in Town
With all respect, Traverse City is a picky town in some ways, not persnickety, but picky. We’re very careful as to who we allow to represent us, because we kind of believe that a business does represent us and our local values. That being said, there has been some pushback with Starbucks.
1. Let’s start with the coffee issue
Coffee shops per capita . . . I’ve spent some time in downtown Seattle and I’m wondering how closely we would match up. In fact, I have a commemorative mug from the original Starbucks at Pike Place Market. However, we have a lot of great local coffee shops . . . a lot . . . and they’re amazing. In that respect, Starbucks is new to the neighborhood.
This was the single most important factor in our decision to move to Traverse City 6 years ago!
Well, not really, but it was a bonus. I’m still dropping into local coffee shops for the first time. In addition, we have a few of our own coffee roasters.
Why would we want an international coffee chain? Actually, the only other major chain is Biggby. I’m sure there will be some who will swear by Biggby and some who will swear by Starbucks. We do the same with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. It’s like a civil war around here during football and basketball season, but that’s just because we’re Michiganders.
Nonetheless, we all know from Economics 101 that competition does not hurt the market, but it drives it. Biggby now has a legitimate competitor and that can only mean good things. The local coffee shops could be a nonissue because: a) they have their specialties, b) some of them cater to the tourist economy, and c) they have built up a local patronage.
2. Now let’s look at location and accessibility
Stories have been printed and our picky, not persnickety, populace has responded. There are actually two locations. There is the one I’m writing about. Then there will be another one on the mall lot before long.
The reason why our populace has shown concern with this location seems to be about the actual location and accessibility, if I can summarize what I’ve read.
It’s located on the corner of E. Front St. and Garfield Ave. Everyone knows this is a very busy intersection, with a lot of traffic at certain times of the day, and in certain seasons.
This is actually good news for a shop like Starbucks. Do you think our traffic is bad? You should see how coffee shops are crammed into every nook and cranny among the highrises in Seattle.
This Starbucks is on the block of a major downtown park and within one block of Northwestern Michigan College (NMC). I wish I had a place like this within walking distance when I was doing my undergrad. My wife and I would go to Denny’s to study late at night, nothing against Denny’s. In fact, I’m not sure how many college students I’ve seen come and go in the hour I’ve been here while my son is in class at NMC.
The last issue about the location that seems to be getting pushback is accessibility. First, please let me apologize, because that term generally applies to other topics. However, I’m talking about the ease in which people will get in and out of the actual physical site from these two streets. Plans for the lot were made public earlier this year, and I suppose it’s not easy to wrap one’s mind around plans. Some things you just have to see for yourself.
This Starbucks is part of a small shopping center. There are three entrances from the two roads. Although I was wondering about this issue, I now believe it is a non-issue. The entrances are marked well. There is plenty of parking, as seen in this picture, and on another side of the buildings.
The drive-through was another point of concern amid the chatter when the plans were released. In the hour that I’ve been in the cafe, there has never been a car horn honked. Traffic flow in and out has not been an issue, and I can see all points of entry/exit.
This will possibly relieve the minds of some who worry about such things. I’m just thankful to finally have the drive-thru option in Traverse City!
3. EthicsSay what you want about whether or not Starbucks matches the personality of Traverse City. However, I wonder if some of the naysayers would whistle a different tune if they realized that Starbucks ranks very high in independent studies on ethics in business. They often make it into the top 5-10 for ethical businesses in their class. There are many reasons for this, too many to list here. I just want to throw that in for my friends in town who think Starbucks may not jive with our vibe.
For my Christian friends who don’t think that Starbucks jives with our vibe, I would have some different questions.
Hypothetically speaking: What if the product and prices were equal at a Starbucks and a local “Christian owned” coffee shop in your town? However, you found out that the Christian owned coffee shop did nothing ethically outstanding for fair trade, for employee development, for the environment, for charities, etc. It just turned a profit. But what if you found out that Starbucks has all of these ethical practices in place and more? Which cafe would you buy a cup of coffee from? Furthermore, would you ever stop to ask what makes the Christian owned coffee shop . . . well, uh . . . Christian?
I’m not trying to Christianize Starbucks! I’m just talking about ethical practices that are recognized as admirable in the business realm.
iii. This Particular Cafe
The cafe is rectangular with plenty of seating options: i.e. small cafe height tables and stools, regular tables and chairs, a long group table, a couple bar stools and low counter, and some individual seating with comfortable single chairs. The windows welcome in a lot of natural light, which is something I personally like.
I’ve been waiting for a place in Traverse City, other than a bar, to have an outdoor seating area with an external heater!
Starbucks will have a fire (of sorts) heating an outdoor cafe area, and the inside area of the cafe near the fireplace as well. The outdoor seats are actually pretty comfortable too.
iv. Personally, Why Starbucks?
I can think of many reasons why I speak up for Starbucks. However, here are some that are easy to relate to.
Starbucks and their cafes have made a difference in my narrative. As a seminary student with a couple graduate degrees, I don’t know how many papers I’ve completed in these cafes over the years.
Then there are sermons, Biblical lessons, and a variety of professional writings like this one, that seem to find a spark of creativity amidst the low-key chatter, indie music, and hums and whistles of the espresso makers.
You have to admit, the Starbucks atmosphere and music has made a name for itself.
2. Practical matters
Then there are a couple of very practical matters. First, it’s affordable coffee, and one might add affordable gourmet coffee. I’m a fan of good coffee. If I’m going to spend $2 for a cup of joe, I would rather spend it at Starbucks than at the local jiffy mart gas station . . . every time.
Secondly, there is the matter of consistency. The coffee and drinks are not only affordable, they are also consistent, especially in the cafes (remember the management differences between cafes and kiosks). If I want a coffee, or want to buy my wife a tea or brownie, or want an Americano or Flat White, I know exactly what I’m going to get.
3. The Island of Misfit Toys
I heard a manager say his store is like “The Island of Misfit Toys.” There are many variations in his workforce, no set profile he looks for when hiring, and sometimes a shift can be a combination of workers who have very little in common. His managerial Starbucks philosophy is that anyone can fit in with misfits.
I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.
Starbucks is known in the business world for building a form of community into their system. As Christians, we could dismiss it as a psuedo-community if we like. However, we also have the option to plunder the Egyptians so to speak (Exodus 12.35-36), and learn from these types of organizational models.
Welcome to the Neighborhood Starbucks!
I know this whole write-up is a bit over the top, but allow me to enjoy the moment! I’m sure after the trendy, local foodies have come and gone, I’ll still be a faithful goldmember working on my little keyboard over in the corner 🙂
Pastor Jared Ingle
Long Lake Friends Church
JC Ingle, Inc. | Nonprofit | Ministry | Supervised Counseling
Respectfully referred to as Java Jedi by my sons.
Reach out at Meet Jared
For further reading:
These are a couple of Starbucks books by CEO’s that I can recommend for glimpses into the Starbucks machine and how they build community. I’ve read one and a close ministerial colleague highly recommends the other. If you follow the links and purchase a book, Amazon will link the sale to my account. Thank you, and enjoy the read!
Howard Behar and Janet Goldstein, It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks, CLICK HERE
Howard Shultz, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, CLICK HERE