Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Um...It's A Coooofffffeeee Shop!

Since the beginning of the year, the Chicago Tribune has made it their cause célèbre to give us every new item, however small, about the controversial world of...Starbuck's.  

Two days ago, the latest came as a follow-up to the announcement of the first 50 stores slated to close and the Tribune plays it like Allentown is losing its last steel mill.

You can find it here, it's Christo's first for the SNC and there will be more.

For towns like Country Club Hills, a Starbucks closing means much more

2 Chicago-area Starbucks already on chain's hit list

Russell Morgan (aka Norman Rae) wants the corporate honchos at Starbucks to know that when it comes to closing store locations, they don't know beans (Let's begin a count of how many dippy coffee metaphors are used. That's one.).

He may be a retired railroad worker, but get him going on the Seattle coffee giant and he speaks with the authority of a Wall Street analyst (That might be a little much. I'm feeling an intern wrote this. First byline! Bad story, but first byline!). He rattles off a multitude of reasons for the company's financial woes, but nothing, he says, is as boneheaded as the announcement this week that it will shutter the Country Club Hills store at the end of the month. (I don't know, selling CDs for $25 that I could get online for $12 was pretty stupid.)

"They just pulled the plug too soon," Morgan said as he satisfied his twice-a-day caffeine habit ($8/day for one month and you got yourself a decent espresso machine.). "They didn't give it enough time."

To people who live in more fashionable ZIP codes (Yep. Intern. Blatant racial and class pandering, crappy metaphors, all the signs are here.) , the loss of a Starbucks might not be viewed as a wound to civic pride. But in Country Club Hills, the opening of the ubiquitous chain in May 2007 signified a certain cachet. (Gotta say, every community/neighborhood uses the same logic. When Potbelly's and Cold Stone came to Lincoln Square and I was working at my Pottery Barn with food-type restaurant, people at the bar kept saying that was a sign the neighborhood was becoming the new Southport/Roscoe Village. I kept a tally with my co-workers and it hit about 20 mentions before we stopped counting. Words like 'arrived' were used.)

"It meant we had arrived," Morgan said. (There we go.)

But now this store at 167th and Crawford is going the way of yesterday's coffee grounds (#2), part of a corporate restructuring that will close 600 of its more than 7,000 outlets nationwide. The first 50 of those 600 were announced Monday.

Some 12,000 jobs will be shed, but an employee of the Country Club Hills store, who declined to give her name (for fear of incurring the wrath of Starbuck. And another sign this is an intern. Totally unnecessary.), said all her co-workers had been reassigned to other locations.

Kelly Mattran, the company's Chicago-based regional marketing manager, confirmed the closing by the end of July but declined to give a specific date or discuss why the store was chosen. (How about making another phone call?)

"Throughout the history of Starbucks, we have always aspired to put people first," she said in a written statement. "This makes our decision to close stores more difficult. . . ." (Or another email, apparently. And could that sound more trite? Spew out more drivel. Can we put a moratorium on 'putting people first' for a few years?)

The only other Illinois address on the hit list so far is in Elmhurst, where latte lovers need only travel mere blocks for a fix. (Whew! The Chicago area really missed the eye of the Starbuck's-closing hurricane, didn't it? We should be thankful.)

Market saturation is an oft-cited reason for the company's turmoil. "The Onion" once lampooned the proliferation with the headline, "New Starbucks Opens in Rest Room of Existing Starbucks." (Not 'an', 'the' reason.)

However, that's not the case in Country Club Hills, where the nearest Starbucks purveyor is four miles away, in Homewood (The hell you say! How did these people ever live before two years ago?!). Of course, overexpansion of premium brands has never been a problem in the south suburbs (More implied racial pandering), where residents commiserate about being the forgotten stepchild of the region. Rand McNally once left the entire region off the map of the metropolitan area. (She left nothing out on her one hour trip to the South Side, did she?)

It's a familiar story, said Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch. The community, which has a population of 16,000—80 percent African-American—has to work twice as hard as other communities to kick-start economic development, even though its median household income is almost $57,800, or similar to Mt. Prospect's, according to the 2000 census. (Oh, c'mon! Is this really your argument? Check out a map. Which area has a better chance for whorish consumer brands like Starbuck's to make money? Cripes!)

"Starbucks has had a good following, but no one makes money in the first year," he said. "They have a national problem . . . but they only looked at the current numbers instead of looking at the growth potential. They'll be back in 24 months . . . and then they'll have some explaining to do." (I'm not bemoaning Mr. Russell. Seems like a nice guy who likes his coffee. And corporations in America have a long, storied and shameful history of completely ignoring areas predominantly populated by African-Americans. But where's the issue here? It was a failing coffee shop, not the only grocery store for 50 miles.)

The city's Economic Development Commission will write a letter to corporate headquarters, officials said. (A chain letter? A letter explaining how great summer camp was?)

As for Morgan, he hopes to rally residents with an Internet campaign (It will be MoveOn for coffee lovers.). He attributes the store's failure to, among other factors, poor signage that could have directed traffic from nearby Interstate Highway 57. (By Golly, they've really thought about this.)

There's no question that commerce is, well, percolating (#3) along the 167th Street corridor, which just a few years ago featured little more than vacant lots.

Wal-Mart anchors the development, along with a Loews multiplex, which is one of the theater chain's top moneymakers, according to city officials.

In the next few months, a Sonic Drive-In will open adjacent to the Starbucks site and is expected to draw "a huge amount of traffic," (What is this, the Quad City Times?) explained Wanda Comein, spokeswoman for the city. A 140-store outlet mall is poised to break ground and is slated for 2010, city officials said.

"I'm so tired of having to drive for everything I need," (NEED!!!!????) sighed Darnell Nolin, 29, sipping a chai tea (I hate her already.) when told of the Country Club Hills store's demise.

The business consultant regularly uses the locale for meetings. He has to travel to 127th and Cicero—some 40 blocks north—"to get a Potbelly's," (The HELL You Say! I'd write a letter about that. That's wrong in soooo many ways.) he lamented. "Now, that's just not right." (I can't understand why people hate Americans. Their priorities in life are completely in balance and they're not prone to hyperbole. What's the problem here?)

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