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Starbucks' strategy: Deceitful or brilliant?

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By now you may have heard of the nationally-famous 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea shop in Seattle. A nationally-famous neighborhood coffee and tea shop that has just opened this week? How does that happen? Well, it happens when its owner is Starbucks Corp., and when that owner doesn't want you to know that this "neighborhood" coffee shop is owned and operated by the Big Green Coffee Co.

Starbucks' stealth strategy was exposed last week, in stories such as this one in the Seattle Times. The new, or re-branded shop sounds like a pretty cool spot, actually, especially when you consider that this particular Starbucks was slated for closure by the company. Now it will get new life, a new identity and will sell beer and wine along with the coffee and tea, as well as featuring events such as live music and poetry readings, like a real European or classic San Francisco/New York coffeehouse.

But there are people who do not appreciate that Starbucks wants the public to think that this is an indepenent shop. A little honesty early on could have gone a long way to calm down the Starbucks haters. (In the same way that a little honesty a while back could have cooled the civic fury here over the 2016 Olympic bid.) They could have stripped away any remnant of the old Starbucks but somehow, gently, informed diners and the public at large of the connection between Starbucks and "15th Street." People would have complained, as they seem to enjoy doing, about the taste of Starbucks' coffee or the fact that it is an evil global empire, but at least they would be without the ammunition provided them by the company's apparent deceit.

The thing about this new endeavor and Starbucks' fact-finding missions that really angered me, however, was the observation by Sebastian Simsch, co-owner of Seattle Coffee Works near Seattle's Pike Place Market, who, according to the Seattle Times story, "became frustrated last year after large groups of Starbucks employees kept crowding into his 300-square-foot store to look around." Not only did they crowd the shop like a corporate invading army, but they didn't buy anything! Fortunately Simsch called them out on it and cowards that they were, the corporate soldiers did not return.

It seems that Starbucks will transform stores that are in neighborhoods and have taken on a certain neighborhood flavor, so it would seem unlikely that your downtown or airport Starbucks would change. You can bet that this concept won't be limited to Seattle, nor will it only happen in a few stores here and there. And considering that Chicago has long been a favorite test market for Starbucks, how do you like the sound of the "Piper's Alley Coffee and Tea," "Andersonville Coffee" or "Via Taylor Cafe" ?

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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This page contains a single entry by James Scalzitti published on July 20, 2009 7:10 PM.

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