Last Friday a cute new coffee shop opened in Seattle, dubbed “15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea”–it’s one of those unique places that are being beaten out of business by big nasty Starbucks. Wait a second, it is a Starbucks.
And it’s right there on the front window–the olde worlde-looking painted store sign says “15th Ave E Coffee and Tea…Inspired by STARBUCKS.” It is, in fact, a low-profile, camouflaged stealth Starbucks store. And it’s part of a new Starbucks business model that will see stores without the trademark global styling, and interiors that are more of a return to the traditional coffeehouse. Some of them may even, astonishingly, sell wine or beer and host live music and poetry readings.
Indeed, 15 Ave E does live up to that idea–its decor looks much more old-fashioned, the espressos dribble out of a hand-operated machine.
On one hand, this is a great move by the global coffee machine that is Starbucks to buck the globalization trend, and give the consumer a more unique experience. But can it be authentic? Great independent coffee shops have surfaced across the world for centuries. They tend to serve different coffee blends, because they’re truly local they feel more personal, and they sometimes act as a social hub for a neighborhood. What these new Starbucks stores are doing is ditching the corporate brand so they can pretend to be one of those genuine mom-and-pop stores, while still earning money to feed the global enterprise. It’s a bit like finding out that your favorite small-label French champagne is actually made by Coca Cola, and bottled in St. Louis. If these stealth stores manage to deliver a genuinely local experience, and integrate themselves a bit more into local communities then perhaps we’ll let Starbucks off the hook. But it’s a big “if”.