Wake Up and Smell the (Socially and/or Environmentally Correctly Cultivated) Coffee

November 2002

Trouble is a-brew in Berkeley again. Free speech, Vietnam, women’s lib, Central America, no nukes, Apartheid, animal rights — step aside you causes of yore, history has never been hotter. The streets are a-buzz, the revolution is afoot — the Percolator Revolution!

Meanwhile, in the rest of the nation, a cup of coffee has become the in-vogue accessory for people on the go. Starbucks coffeehouses are nearly as ubiquitous as stop signs. Consider: Of the 123 Starbucks in Manhattan, 68 are within two blocks of one another. The Starbucks Corporation had 2,706 “outlets” in the U.S. in 2001, and reported over $2 billion in revenue that year. But that’s just a hill of beans. With a goal of phasing in 2,400 new outlets by the end of 2003 as part of its three-year plan of having 10,000 outlets worldwide, Starbucks’s coffers will surely be filled to the brim — and overflow — from cashing in on the Coffee Craze it helped create.

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz speaks of his company’s “continued rapid growth,” and indeed new outlets are popping up like weeds. A small town near Berkeley, in the midst of a long-planned, costly renovation of its outdoor shopping mall, recently replaced its old Albertson’s supermarket with a new Albertson’s super-duper-market, more than double the size of the original. It features an in-house dry cleaner, video rental shop, deli/bakery, bank, and a Starbucks. This wouldn’t be significant were it not that, a couple months later, a new Starbucks coffeehouse opened up down the parking lot, roughly 50 yards away. But wait, there’s more. A couple months later, a Barnes & Noble bookstore opened up roughly another 50 yards down the parking lot from the Starbucks coffeehouse, hawking books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, and — yes — Starbucks coffee. That makes three Starbucks within 100 yards of one another. And each one is bustling with business. So now, sippin’ suburbanites can get perky while picking up the latest issue of Golf Magazine or Yoga Journal. Not only that, they’ll have the juice necessary to stay awake while tackling their grocery list. And, for good measure, they can re-energize on the hike between stores, or on the way back to their SUVs.

But in Berkeley things are different — way different. You won’t find much golf (too elitist) or yoga (been there, done that) here. Radical politics is still a popular pastime, best exemplified by two oft-sighted bumper stickers: “I’d Rather Be Smashing Imperialism” and “Think Global, Act Loco.” And though Berkeley has one of the highest densities of coffeehouses per square mile in the nation, it has only one more Starbucks than can be found in that 100-yard section of its neighbor’s parking lot. It is not uncommon here to see another bumper sticker that reads, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go to Starbucks.” Anti-Starbucks animosity runs deep in this city. But why?


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New Oxford Notes: November 2002

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