The Community Called Starbucks

Friends don't let friends ...There’s a little campaign going on out there. It’s the Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks thing. Until yesterday I had no idea! I guess from the blogs and other online references I’ve seen it’s a political statement to say so. Along with it’s tee-shirts, bumper stickers and cups promoting the theory, there’s even multiple Facebook pages dedicated to the subject. The numbers vary but of the 18 different pages I counted only one is worth mentioning with a whopping 332 elite members (you have to ask permission to join). Most of the others show membership on the low (3) to very low-side (1). Of the more than 750-million active Facebook users only 1100 have joined the Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks bandwagon.

The reasons for the outrage vary from the glib, to the serious, to the nonsensical — or maybe it’s all nonsense. A few motives cited include corporate irresponsibility: lousy and/or expensive coffee: hatred for anything Starbucks: or as one competitor states, a means to “push” their own brand. Not wanting to get too political in my posts I’ll only say I have a differing point of view. Besides, none of this has much to do with the subject as my title indicates above. It’s all just a side show, more accurately a freak show that serves me well as a point of introduction regarding the community called Starbucks.

The affable Starbucks founder Howard Schultz created quite the phenomenon when he shaped the ubiquitous Howard Schultz - Starbucks Founder & CEOStarbucks Coffee shops into the force they’ve become today. His stores are communities within their neighborhoods. A regular gathering place for the areas movers and shakers, the policy makers, the wannabes as well as the misfits. Society’s most beautiful people often frequent their local Starbucks just to see and to be seen. I’ve had the opportunity on a number of occasions to stand in Schultz’ company in conversation with him. The experience leads me to think maybe this sense of community has something to do with his down-to-earth nature and his propensity to want to visit and talk with people. Nothing happens by accident at Starbucks.

Howard wasn’t always a gazillionire. He grew up the son of a poor German-Jewish family in the projects of Brooklyn, New York and I don’t think he’s forgotten his roots. He’s self-made. He’s conscientious and a good, decent man. His clientele are made up of folks from all walks of life and financial means. From the elderly to toddlers, from the down-and-outers to the fabulously successful, Starbucks makes ’em all feel right at home. Whether the visitors are decked-out in Keds or Jimmy Choo you never know who you’ll see there.

The one I go to has come to be nicknamed “the Russian Starbucks” due to the many, mostly younger, immigrants from nations that once made up the U.S.S.R. who visit throughout the day. Regular church goers, at least a couple of evenings a week, these young Russkys, dressed in their Sunday-best, gather afterwards to socialize with others of their heritage. Amazing how times have changed. Those who were once our sworn enemies we now share coffee, pastries and small-talk with. I admit it! I’ve done it!

Starbucks StorefrontI’ve come to depend a lot on my Starbucks meeting-place and with my frequent visits have come to know quite a few people. It’s gotten to the point where my day wouldn’t be the same without spending some time there, just to say “hello.” Noteworthy in consideration of the fact I don’t even drink coffee but that’s another post for yet another day.

Among those I’ve come to know in my office away from home is Larry who within two minutes of striking up a conversation with a stranger will reveal two things about himself. One: he’s in the “film and television business“, and two: he’s soon moving back to his L-A roots. Larry who’s a rabid U.S.C. football fan is deep into a full-featured movie project that’s bound to be the next Pearl Harbor. With him frequently is his assistant and co-worker — a defense attorney in her day-job — a Jewish princess turned Christian who talks of meetings with the likes of Mel Gibson, intrigue and high finance. Then there’s my friend “Mr. Dependable.” Ron’s a retired Boeing Engineer who’s living the dream. With a wife still working he has free time up the yang-yang and visits on a daily basis at least once and sometimes twice a day. Always with a book in-hand — Ron must read ten a month — he takes a seat at a small table with a cup of his favorite, a Grande Decaf Mocha, extra hot! Predictably Ron reaches into a little cloth bag and pulls out his iPod, dons his Bose headphones, adjusts the volume, tunes out and reads on. Either at the end of a chapter, the end of a song, or upon reaching the bottom of his cup — “just depends” he says — Ron makes haste to return home to his honey-do’s and to lounge by his back-yard pool. He’s never there very long, just in and out in a matter of minutes. But two things are certain: One, he always has time to stop and say hello and to chat a bit, and he’ll say goodbye and chat a little more before he leaves. And two, he’ll be back the very next day and do it all over again. At least once.

I’ve noted when I visit other Starbucks they all seem to have the same feeling and attachment to their neighborhoods and attract the same types of people no-matter-where. Entrepreneurs are frequent visitors especially those with their computer-generated graphic presentations along with an assortment of paper brochures and business cards. You know the type, those multi-level marketers meeting with their latest prospect(s) in hopes of getting them to sign up. Hey buddy, have I got a deal for you. Once in a lifetime! You’ll also always see the smartly dressed business people who meet there regularly with clients and friends. Even the disheveled homeless wander in from time-to-time but few ever seem to pay them much mind.

Other “regulars” at my local hangout include the son of a popular and highly successful minister whose congregation is one of the largest of it’s kind in the area. Tatooed, stubble-faced (mostly peach fuzz), motorcycle ridin’ Tony reeks with the air of rebellion. Yet this typical twenty-something is his flock’s young adult pastor and probably his daddy’s heir apparent. I’m sure he cleans up really nice on Sundays. Then there’s the retired liberal-minded school teacher who’s spent her entire life in the Seattle area. A daily fixture as well Rita always orders a self-designed concoction which appears more dessert than a drink. It’s her own personal formula over years of tweaking in one of those extra-extra large cups that attracts a lot of gawkers and questions. Ask Rita anything about her favorite business Starbucks and she could fill your afternoon with one story after another from our local Starbucks history to matters straight out of SBUX HQ just a few miles north. Rita’s connected!*

You may have heard that Starbucks stores are a gathering place for writers. In my experience that’s true. I’ve come to meet a few of them. From the tall thirties-something Russian woman to the middle-aged bespeckled man. Isabella who appears to have walked out of a spy novel, is writing a screenplay about something I can’t recall. David in longhand is writing a psychological thriller/murder novel and says his agent has found several interested publishers for one already completed. It’s just a matter of time.

Indeed there’s something magical going on at these Starbucks stores. I’m not sure what draws everyone there, besides the coffee and the ambience but for me it’s obvious and it has nothing to do with coffee. Like Howard above I like to visit and talk with people… to get to know them. I’m a people person. Meeting and talking with people can be entertaining, educational and downright fulfilling. I pity the introvert! You’d be surprised what we can learn about people and the world around us by just sittin’ and listening at your local Starbucks.

Yep the old watering hole has undergone a remake thanks to Howard and the Starbucks brand. So don’t let it be said Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks. Friends in-fact are created there! What and where my friends choose to drink is their own choice. It’s their own business and crusades that say otherwise are… well… nonsense. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. But I can’t wait to see and reply to your comments!

*Note: I was saddened to learn, 32 days after posting this blog that Rita suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. I’ve been unable to determine the exact date of her death but I’m told it was about the same time this was posted. I never saw her again after writing this. – RG

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14 comments on “The Community Called Starbucks

  1. Bianca says:

    Great read. I was a frequent visitor of my neighborhood Starbucks all through high school and even in college. Today, I go there to blog.

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Thank you Bianca, always good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

      Starbucks is a great place to write, no question. Some of my best has come while in my favorite hang-out.

      Did you know: Only about 25 cents of a $3.75 latte is profit for Starbucks? The rest pays for importing and roasting the beans, milk, the cup, labor and overhead costs.

      Thanks again.

  2. Panera Bread in our area is taking Starbucks head-on in the “social gathering,” “writers retreat” locale competition. One Starbucks nearby put in a drive-thru feature and the local devotees thought it scandalous, cheapening the potential for more interaction!

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Thanks for stopping by! We also have a Panera Bread in our area. In-fact the last time I was there I spoke to a friend I had met — and is a frequent visitor — at my Starbucks. She is in-fact the Russian novelist I wrote about in this blog. So, right you are!

      I note you live near Philadelphia. I’m a Pennsylvanian myself and once lived in Philly as a young boy (1421 Erie). Growing up, and after moving to the D,C. suburbs of Maryland we would visit an uncle who lived there for many years until his retirment when he moved to our roots in central PA (Clearfield county). Most of this is covered in my long-version bio in my “About” page.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment and best wishes!

  3. Roger Ingram says:

    With the closest Starbucks 25 miles away its hard to find time to stop and socialize. Its usually quick stop for a large black coffee and out the door. I am a Starbucks junkie whose greatest Christmas present is a Starbucks gift card.

    Hard to believe you don’t drink coffee. If I remember right there was a pot of coffee going at your Mom’s house all the time, then again maybe that’s why you don’t. I didn’t drink coffee til a few night watches in the Navy, it was the only thing I could get to keep me awake.

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Thanks Roger for the comments.

      There’s certainly nothing wrong with having little time to stop and socialize at your local SBUX. You, like many guys, have plenty of other things to keep you focused on in your active lives. Things like wives, children, grandchildren and of course — in your case — deer hunting! A choice between family, the great outdoors OR hangin’ in a Starbucks? Easy decision!

      Yes, I’ve never been one to indulge in coffee, but I can tell you I’ve made up for it in other vices of the caffeinated kind.

      Thanks again and I hope you’ll come back!

      (For my other readers: Roger is a first cousin among whom I have quite a few. He is seven years older than me and some of my fondest and earliest memories are of him. He was a Navy Submariner as a young man and I haven’t seen him in many years. I’ve been told by several that he is one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to know. Good for you Rog!)

  4. Debie says:

    My son even ran into his father at Starbucks…. And when my ex was down on his luck (before he landed in my basement, before he eloped … again) the employees even took up a collection for him. Nice people work there. And I love the strawberry frappucinos. Try them in the summer. I had not a single idea you had taken up writing…. fun to read! Are you still as lucky calling in on radio contests?

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Debie,

      With all the years that have passed-by there’s a LOT you don’t know about me!

      About those radio contests. Funny you would remember that! I can’t recall just how many WPGC sweatshirts I won in my day but it was quite a few, not to mention all those “request-o-matics” I got to voice. If you’ve read my Facebook bio you would know I have been caller number nine eleven times and have even won tickets to a Willie Nelson concert. But, it’s been years since I’ve dabbled in those sorts of things. Since those days of long-ago however I moved up and became the one on the other end of the phone answering those calls for various radio station related contests.

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll be a regular visitor and will continue to leave comments as the spirit moves you. Say hello to Keith Mahn (sp?) for me!

  5. LeRoy William Bloom says:

    IDK. I can make or get good coffee with out Starbucks. And I’m not a double latte extra moxa jasmine flavored coffee cup lip etc. So for me mox nix.

    My wife on the other hand is into Lattes. She loves them. At one time she was buying at least two a day but monetary and weight considerations drove her back a bit. Now she doesn’t do them as often. On the other hand when she and I are on a road trip she HAS to have her lattes.

    To me it doesn’t matter. I try not to criticize others for what they find important in life. I’m sure I have some little strange habits that others may not understand … so I’m not going to judge here.

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Spoken like a true diplomat.

      As I don’t drink coffee, my attraction leans toward the social elements. As I’m also not married and still seeking employment I have lots of free-time on my hand. Not a single honey-do! Maybe SBUX can help change all that!

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Lee!

  6. Judy says:

    Sounds like a great place to meet people and enjoy the refrestments. There are not any Starbucks really close to me that would be convenient for me to go to on a regular basis. But since I am “single” now, who knows, I might meet someone interesting.

    Judy

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Judy,

      I can’t believe out of the eight Starbucks that are in Akron not a-one-of-them is conveniently located? None of these among them??

      2279 West Market Street
      2884 South Arlington Road
      3265 West Market Street
      2000 Brittian Rd
      3200 South Arlington Road
      3767 West Market Street

      SBUX is a great place for single women to meet someone interesting. You just gotta be willing to strike up a conversation. A beautiful woman like you will have no problems! Trust me! πŸ™‚

      Thanks cousin! All my love to you, your mom and sister. To all the family!

  7. The Starbucks phenomenon kind of reminds me of what things used to be like here in my own little village back before 1994 when we used to have a post office! (Although the post office never served coffee though.) Anyway, it was the only place in town where one could go and get the latest scoop on what was happening to others around us, a place to meet and greet others from young folks with new babies to old codgers with nothing much else to do but walk to the post office and see who else had lived to greet yet another day.

    Kind of makes me wish a Starbucks were something that could come to this tiny burg and be the replacement social unit we’ve been missing for the past 17 years now, ya know! Besides, I dearly love coffee and would probably be there for a good while every day as long as I could manage to tear myself away from being parked at my computer…

    I think probably the closest Starbucks to my place might be over in State College -if in fact, they have a Starbucks there.

    • Rick Gleason says:

      Jeni,

      The Starbucks environment would be the perfect replaacement for the “social unit” you found at your now defunct post office. A quick Google serach indicates there are three Starbucks stores in State College. If you don’t already have a laptop you might consider picking your self up at least a small Net Book computer as all the Starbucks locales have free Wi-Fi Internet access. You can get a Net Book for about $200, give or take. Internet access is a big part of the draw for many who visit Stabucks and especially for those, like you and I, that spend a lot of time in front of a screen.

      With that one small problem out of the way I think you’d make the perfect regular visitor to one of those locations. So scope ’em out and pick a favorite! No doubt at least one of them will be a big hangout for Penn State students. Should you choose to give be sure and pick up and register a Starbucks card on that first visit. It pays some nice dividends.

      Your visits will serve at least two worthy purposes. 1) It’ll get you out of the house and you’ll meet new people and make friends. 2) It’ll give you plenty of material for future posts on your blog!

      As always thanks for visitng and especially for your comment. I’ll look forward to hearing about your Starbucks adventure, should you choose to stretch your horizons.

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