Sunday, August 07, 2005

Starbucks in LES: revisited

The rising of the the first Starbucks on the Lower East Side caused quite a stir, not the least of all to my site traffic:

And you know what? It is a big deal. We're talking about a neighborhood that has a rep for going against the grain (npi) and maintaining its homegrown flavor. And to not have a single one of the Ubiquitous Green Awning of Doom in the entire 002 was, I suppose, a minor source of satisfaction. While my overreaction was for the most part tongue in cheek, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit disturbed.

But some seem to be going a bit overboard:
"If people support this store, then this neighborhood isn't what it's cracked up to be," said downtowner Lauren Scott, 34.
"It's the end. I've got to find someplace else to live," said Neil Cohen, 31.
Squeeze me? Baking powder?

Okay, let's back up a minute. It's not that I don't understand. Part of what makes the Lower East Side, and New York in general, special are the locally-owned businesses. Inevitably, Starbucks and other national chains muscle out the locally owned businesses, which they can do without superior products or services because their financial might can out-market and underprice the competition. No, I don't want New York turning into Anytown USA.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind.
  1. Businesses don't succeed if no one supports them.

    "Evil" corporations are "evil" because the consumers allow them to be. And in the above quote, Lauren Scott almost has it right - if Lower East Siders support this Starbucks, the neighborhood isn't what it's cracked up to be.

    Well, except it's not just artists and hipsters and scenesters who live in the neighborhood, and that has been true before the condos started moving in. There have always been working class families and old Jewish tailors, whatever. They might not be what you think of when you hear "Lower East Side", but there they are.

    Plus, Chinatown has grown to the east and north that the corner of Allen and Delancey is a de facto intersection of LES and Chinatown. I doubt Chinatown residents care if Starbucks is cramping my indie cred.

  2. Starbucks is not satan.

    Yeah, Starbucks muscles out mom & pop chains and otherwise bullies its competitors. All things being equal, I prefer the indies over the big chains. But keep in mind that for all its negative rep, the company does a quite a bit of good. They pay reasonable wages and have employee benefits that burger flippers could only dream of. They donate to good causes and sell Fair Trade coffee.

    Granted, their size allows them to spend a few cents on the dollar to be socially responsible when smaller coffeshops can't, but at least they use some of their money for good.

  3. For the love of Lohan, we're talking about Delancey Street.

    On the same stretch of Delancey, you can find a McDonald's, a KFC/Taco Bell and a Dunkin Donuts. Not exactly an indie paradise. It's not like Eve just took a gulp of the forbidden latte - I don't look at this as the beginning of the end. It's a mere milestone on a path that we've been on for years.

I'd like to say whether this Starbucks survives or not is up to the LES residents, but it's not. It's going to get plenty of business from tourists and surrounding neighborhoods even if the entire LES boycotts it.

Of course, there's nothing stopping you from going to your local independently-owned shop either. If you like your indie coffee shops, keep going to 88 Orchard (which I guess would be the most affected) or Full City or Sunshine Factory or wherever else you can find on Delocator.

You might not drive Starbucks out of business but that doesn't mean the big chains and the independently-owned can't coexist. That's about the best you can hope for, really. Does this mean the end of the Lower East Side as we know it? Only symbolically.

And for me, someone who only moved here last year, to complain about the new Lower East Side being about outsiders and newcomers would be utter silliness.

Did I just write a totally serious post about the implications of a Starbucks opening in the neighborhood? Damn. I need to get out more.

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