Archive for April 4th, 2006

Mysterious "Guest Writer" over at New West – Missoula has posted a scathing attack on the new Starbucks appearing on Higgins St:

Contrary to the Missoulian editor’s opinion, the angst surrounding the opening of a downtown Starbucks is more than just a fashion statement amongst the "local intelligentsia." It is a very real threat to the local coffee shops AND the loyal customers who frequent them.

Threat to the customers that frequent the local shops? Are Starbucks employees going to be beating local passers-by with broom handles? Did I miss something?

The downtown Missoula coffee market is more than saturated. There is a place to buy an espresso drink on EVERY single block of the downtown business district. The impending arrival of City Brew (with its Orange Street, interstate-friendly drive-thru) and downtown Starbucks are further pressuring an already pressurized market, hence the predatory practices which bring up the strong revulsion of Starbucks.

Must…not…criticize…bad grammar…

Anyhoo. As much as I like, support, and frequent Missoula businesses almost exclusively over big chains, I still think competition is a good thing. 

Of course, there is competition and there is competition

But Starbucks doesn't seem to use its size to gain unfair competition. The new store isn't going to have ten times the floor size as the local cafes, nor are its prices going to lowball its competition. In fact, Starbucks is a good role model for chains. It treats its suppliers and employees fairly.

The only thing Starbucks has over its compeition is its name. Hardly a "predatory" advantage, especially among Missoulians.

There is not an open market for espresso downtown. Starbucks is not providing something which is uniquely Missoulian or uniquely Montanan, like the rest of the downtown businesses. It will not draw tourists from other areas to downtown. While each coffee retailer has its own loyal customers who would never darken the door of a Starbucks, that’s not the customer base they are worried about. Downtown Missoula greatly relies on the summer tourist dollar. Coffee is of great comfort to the traveler. Before, a downtown tourist would have been obligated to take a chance on a local coffeehouse. Now the siren song of the "consistent yet mediocre" mermaid will be beckoning on North Higgins.

These are not customers who have the time or inclination to experiment with some local flavor. These customers have one shot to buy coffee downtown before they leave. A national name and familiarity is NOT something the local retailer can compete with.

Wholly unsubstantiated. What kind of tourist comes to Missoula to swing in and swing out in a single day? Do you know how hard it is to get here from anywhere else? And Starbucks isn't "mediocre." The coffee is pretty darn tasty.

Again, this is speculation. Has "Guest Writer" seen the improvements made to Break cafe, the closest joint to the new Starbucks location? Break just rented the neighboring space and knocked down a wall. It's got a huge floorspace, is having bands, and did I see a sign for wireless Internet? I mean, the place is spectacular now. Can Starbucks compete with Break?

Starbucks has been opening more than one new store each day, every day, for the past 7 years. Their presence downtown is not wanted or necessary. In the end, what I really want to know is: How many Starbucks stores is enough??

As Matt Singer commented in my last post on Starbucks,

It speaks well of Missoula’s economy that the biggest concern you have about the main drag is that national companies might be interested in jumping into Missoula’s downtown.

Or as Ed Kemmick said:

If I’m in a new town and I need a good latte, yep, I’ll go to Starbucks. But in Missoula? No way. Not with the Break, Butterfly Herbs, Liquid Planet and Bear’s Brew open for business. I’m guessing the only people who will drink at Starbucks are people who don’t normally go to downtown Missoula coffeeshops, which means more biz for the downtown. Sounds good to me.

To be fair to "Guest Writer," I haven't spoken anybody from Break or Liquid Planet about their feelings on the Starbucks. They're probably not terribly happy. (Come to think of it, Liquid Planet has a creepy chain-store feel about it, too.)

Still, as a dedicated consumer of the local cafe scene (I like Bernice's Bakery and the Break, in that order), I'm actuallly thrilled to have the Starbucks at the end of Higgins. That means shorter lines at the Break on market day.

Update: The author of New West's post was Rose Habib, the owner of the Raven Cafe.

The Raven is also a very cool cafe. I forgot to put it on my list.

Still, I don't see how Starbucks is going to be in direct competition with the Raven. The Raven seems to garner most of its business from its FABULOUS breakfast offerings — by far the best in town since the Old Town Cafe closed its doors, muchmuchmuch better than the Shack, which, for some reason, always wins the best breakfast category in the Indepent's "Best of Missoula…" survey — um, where was I?

Oh, yes. The Raven gets most of its business from breakfast, not from random coffee drinkers. Plus the Raven is situated much closer to Macy's/Bon Marche, the starting place for out-of-towners…

So I'm not worried. I could be wrong.

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