Starbucks Fervor

a kate west reflection

It's about time I commented on the eternal Starbucks craze, having drunk maybe a small lake's worth of their product in my time. The phenomenon that is the coffee behemoth has now reached heights of absurdity. Not being the biggest Theater of the Absurd fan (except for my all-in-black-coffee-shop-dweller years in college), I've been rolling my eyes at every caffeinated development. Unbelievable as it may seem, as many people are now protesting the latest closing of Starbucks chain stores as were protesting the company's unstoppable encroachment and growth not too long ago. What other company can say this?!! What is it about this place that inspires such passion (a mystery addictive drug - I mean, besides caffeine)?

For those of you who don't know (I'm assuming you've been on a deserted island the past twenty years or so?) here's the short tale: First of all it's Seattle-based, the city of grunge, known for liberal viewpoints and environmentally friendly businesses for the most part. Second, you can sit and read in your local chain store, and even write in your laptop; you've entered a comforting community recognized everywhere. Where else do you want to go when it rains, but a coffee shop? (Does anyone visit libraries anymore except students?) I myself find it very convenient for blind dates since you can so easily find one based near (and far) from where you actually live. Even when you travel abroad, you can slip into the nearest Starbucks and find a haven. Not everyone thinks that's so wonderful, as we homogenize the earth more and more, but it is admittedly better than fast food and at least the stores are always clean. Individualism is still alive and well, even in the most cosmopolitan of cities, I assure you. I've traveled some.

So how did we all end up like this? Entrepreneur Howard Schultz talked the existing Starbucks company into adding espresso to their menu in 1983 and the result is sweet coffee history (why, oh why didn't my family invest, argh). And actually, he was inspired by kaffee hauses in Europe. The first non-American chain opened in 1996 (Tokyo, Japan) and now Starbucks appears virtually everywhere. So it's an established American icon which I guess "legitimizes" neighborhoods. Thus, the panic over the store closings. In this economy though, we are all suffering (except the very, very rich, who always manage just fine, even when doing illegal things, but that's another story). And just when I contemplated a part time job at my local Starbucks. Boo.

But I have a feeling that Starbucks will be alright, with the support of a loyal customer base. So don't feel too bad for this capitalist, multi-million dollar organization. Sure, some baristas are hurting, but they'll all bounce back, and come back to selling the free trade products and overpriced beverages we all know and love.

Except now I have to drive an extra five blocks to get my vanilla latte. Hate that.

p.s. Hmmm, they can even inspire millionaires, what will they think of next:
How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

UPDATE: The above seems the least of our problems now. And I can't even comment on the current financial crisis, as I can't seem to get out of the fetal position to muster the effort to type it out. YIKES!

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