One thing for sure, my Starbucks in the South Loop will never be a community center. No matter how gung-ho Mr. Starbucks in Seattle is for letting his stores now serve as community centers, my Starbucks is never going to be one. No matter how much he wants to get himself out of trouble because one of his managers in Pennsylvania called the cops on a couple of non-paying customers, it won't help my Starbucks be a community center.
Nope, my Starbucks is selling us coffee. And that's it.
Give them all the sensitivity training you want, Mr. Starbucks, my Starbucks ain't gonna be a community center.
There was a time it could have been, though.
My Starbucks opened almost 20 years ago. Sans bathroom. Being rather small and always crowded because of the location, and commuter laden during the morning rush, and very visitor laden during neighborhood events like Bears' games, there really was no room for a bathroom, I guess. Although I suspect they have one for baristas in the back.
Still, when people wanted to meet for coffee for a semi-business meeting--inside or outside--or a catch-up session between friends, Starbucks was a great go-to. We could sit inside on stools at high-tops, on stools at the counters or at a smattering of tables and chairs around the store. Or we could sit outside on their patio.
The long line inside, which the baristas have always insisted has to be neat and straight and moving in one specific direction, was constantly being ordered into shape. They never stopped reminding those who made the line the least bit crooked that they were doing so. And to get back in line!
In spite of no bathroom, many of us lingered. We didn't need one. If we needed to go, we could go home. And then come back quickly and rejoin our pals.
We neighbors couldn't wait to get over there through the years--ever since day one. Especially to sit out on the shaded patio with our americanos and pound cake on the nice wrought iron furniture, gossiping and people-watching on Roosevelt Road, between State and Wabash, to our hearts' content.
(A side note: Some of us took walks together early in the morning, and it drove me crazy that even though I'd been going there for years, they'd insist on seeing my ID when I used my unsigned credit card after our group walk. I didn't like carrying anything but my keys, phone and credit card on those walks. I told them to either take the card or take the coffee back. And after I wrote about it on my previous blog, the policy suddenly stopped.)
And then one day the patio seating disappeared. I wondered one summer why no tables and chairs had been put out yet for us neighbors to enjoy. "Well, we can't put them out anymore," a barista told me. "People are using them who shouldn't be."
She was talking about the homeless population that tended to congregate at the edge of the adjacent Jewel parking lot.
Which I found quite odd, because those same people seemed to spend an awful lot of time inside the place. They'd bring their tattered coffee cups in, get what seemed to be free coffee, and take up a lot the tables and chairs inside. And use a lot of cream and sugar, too.
I thought de-seating the patio was unneighborly and a punishment for those of us who never caused any trouble at all. In fact, we gave them tons of business.
But then, not long ago, the inside tables and chairs went, too. Replaced by depthless new counters without any stools. Maybe it was too hard keeping the line straight what with having to meander around the tables and chairs.
Or was it because the inside of the place was getting to be too much like a community center?
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