Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Java jive

The newspaper yesterday confirmed the sad truth: There will be no Starbucks in our newly renovated downtown. The Starbucks people were polite, but we are just not their kind, dear. Which is to say, middle class. Which is to say, not as likely to pay $2 for a cup of coffee as the folks in the tonier neighboring towns. Thanks, but no thanks.

The city planners, intent on making our Main Ave. a shopper’s magnet, had hoped for the upscale coffeehouse to set the right sort of tone for their development. Now, instead, they’re going for a drugstore and a post office. Probably more appealing to our city’s large and vocal senior-citizen population than a Starbucks, but you know, we already have a lot of drugstores. A LOT of drugstores. But we don’t have a Starbucks. And we never will.

Oh, you can still get a $2 cup of coffee within the city limits, but you have to hop on the highway and drive to monster-mega Barnes & Noble out on the edge of town. The coffee bar there uses Starbucks beans, and they charge Starbucks prices, but the execution is somewhat wanting. For one thing, the counter is staffed by humans who have been genetically altered to move more slowly than would normally be possible. There are always many, many of them on staff, and yet it takes 15 minutes for them to pour coffee into a cardboard cup. Time stands still. The line wraps around to the best-seller table. If it weren’t for the fact that the people on line were logy for lack of caffeine, there would be riots.

The atmosphere is similarly lacking; an open area of tables in the corner of a bookstore does not a coffeehouse make. Plus there are patrons who believe that if they can take reference books off of shelves and bring them to a table, they are in a library. A few weeks ago, my friend and I chatted over latte under the increasingly irate gaze of a man who just COULD NOT CONCENTRATE with all this yapping going on. Poor fellow finally lost it entirely when folks at two neighboring tables got into an inter-table confab and distracted him beyond all remedy. This would never happen at a Starbucks. He would know he’d have to listen to the annoying conversations of strangers, and he would have never come in.

But we’ll never really know that, because we’ll never have a Starbucks. The city council is looking for another magnet to add to the mix, but I’m not hopeful: Something that goes with a drugstore and a post office is not likely to draw me in. My personal choice would be a fast-food joint, so at least it would be a magnet for my kids, but no--our town may be too lowbrow for Starbucks, but we’re too highbrow for Micky D’s. One council member sniffed that they try to keep that stuff out on the highway, not in the bosom of the town. So we have one Burger King on the northern border of town, one Wendy’s on the southern, and in between--lots o’ little delis and diners and no-name greasy spoons. There was some discussion about whether a mini-mart slated for the new downtown would be allowed to sell sandwiches, because that would qualify it as a fast-food joint and we can't have that. Interestingly, though, I haven’t heard a peep about the Dunkin’ Donuts that’s been on Main Ave. for years. Donuts are fast, and they’re food, but...oh, heck, you’ve got to get your coffee somewhere.

And we won’t be getting it from Starbucks. I suppose I should say “Good riddance,” because really, where do they get off dissing us like that? But on the other hand...well...hey, guys, I’d pay $2 for a cup of coffee! And I’d bring a friend! Can’t we talk this out?

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