Feature

The Starbucks closings: A nation mourns

Going across town to the other Starbucks isn't the same.

Don’t tell me I’ll get over it, said Mike Pearson in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. The news last week that my favorite Starbucks is to close, along with 600 of the coffee chain’s other “underperforming” franchises, hit me hard in a way that only a fellow addict could understand. And don’t tell me there’s another Starbucks just a block away; “I’m an American. I live for convenience,” and you might as well tell a crackhead that his dealer is moving to Basra. So many people are going “berserk” over Starbucks closings, said Daniel Henniger in The Wall Street Journal, that it’s becoming a movement. Across the nation, desperate customers are petitioning Starbucks management not to shut their favorite “secular chapel.” It’s tempting to mock these disconsolate latte drinkers, but don’t. The company’s outlets are havens from modern life—quiet, contemplative, and laden with comforting ritual. When you’ve been attending a particular church for years, you’re not happy if it closes and you’re sent across town to another.

Oh, spare me, said Alex Beam in The Boston Globe. The Starbucks closings “couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people,” and my sympathy for them is more a Short than a Venti. At any Dunkin’ Donuts, you can find people who actually work for a living, while the local Starbucks is inevitably filled with “high-class hobos” and “MacBook ‘novelists’” whiling away the hours in pampered reverie. The “whiff of excess” in that smug culture no longer seems so hip, said Marie Cocco in The Washington Post. The $4 latte, like the gas-guzzling SUV, was a national extravagance whose time has suddenly passed. Good riddance.

Believe it or not, said Sandy Banks in the Los Angeles Times, there are people for whom these closings really are bad news. Many of the doomed stores are in blighted neighborhoods like Newark, N.J., and South Central in Los Angeles, where any store selling $4 cups of coffee was arguably destined to “underperform.” To the residents of those communities, however, the arrival of a Starbucks was “about more than a cup of coffee.” It was a “symbol of hope,” a vote of confidence from corporate America in the neighborhood’s future, and an invitation to come “join the cultural mainstream.” That invitation has just been rescinded, and it’s “a rebuke that stings.”

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