Cities, Customers Launch 'Save Our Starbucks' Efforts
By JANET ADAMY and ANNA PRIOR
July 19, 2008
Now that Starbucks Corp. has disclosed the 600 locations it wants to shutter, a phenomenon is taking hold: the Save Our Starbucks campaign.
In towns as small as Bloomfield, N.M., and metropolises as large as New York, customers and city officials are starting to write letters, place phone calls, circulate petitions and otherwise plead with the coffee giant to change its mind.
"Now that it's going away, we're devastated," said Kate Walker, a facilities manager for SunGard Financial Systems, a software company, who recently learned of a store closing in New York City.
It's an unusual twist in the saga of Starbucks, one of the fastest growing retailers of the past decade. For years, Starbucks gained attention when a town didn't welcome it. Independent coffee shops complained about the big-muscled competition, and residents bemoaned the erosion of local character.
But ever since Starbucks announced this month that it would close 600 stores by early next year, as its business struggles, the rallying cause has switched to saving these endangered locations.
Ms. Walker is in charge of consolidating 525 people from seven of the company's New York City offices into a new building in January. The Starbucks inside that building, at Madison and 44th, "was something that we were using to psych people up" about the move, she said.
Her hopes were dashed after Thursday night, when Starbucks released the list of the stores that it plans to close. She scoured the Internet to find a phone number for the company's main office and jotted down a company post office box address so she can ask officials to reconsider. "I know it's going to be tough but I'll keep trying at it," Ms. Walker said. "It's sort of an extension of our office."
Although the states with the largest number of closings are California, Florida and Texas, the impact is greater proportionally elsewhere. Mississippi, for instance, is slated to lose 41% of its Starbucks locations; North Dakota, 33%; Minnesota, 32%; and Nebraska, 30%, according to an analysis by William Blair & Co. analyst Sharon Zackfia. That calculation excludes licensed Starbucks stores.
Ms. Zackfia said that the states with the highest percentage of closures include many with low population density and signify that Starbucks "expanded before some markets were ready," she said.
Online, several "Save Our Starbucks" petitions have popped up for various stores across the country, including locations in San Diego, Dallas and New York City.
Starbucks spokeswoman Deb Trevino said officials at the company are discussing how to handle such pleas; she would not give details of what they're considering. "It's not a simple answer," she said.
The closures will mean Starbucks will eliminate some 12,000 jobs, which comes out to 20 for every location it plans to shut. In addition to creating jobs and generating revenue, Starbucks stores serve as key draws for other retailers, making the loss of one a blow to the surrounding area.
When rumors started to swirl about the fate of the Starbucks on Main Street in Madison, Miss., Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler said she immediately rang up Starbucks' corporate headquarters. She didn't know for sure until the store appeared on the list released Thursday night.
One resident asked her whether a petition might help change Starbucks' mind, Ms. Butler said. She plans to call Starbucks to ask them to reassess that store.
Requests to reconsider are also coming from higher-profile entities. The to-be-closed list includes locations developed with Magic Johnson Enterprises. The basketball star has for 10 years helped open 118 stores in less economically robust urban areas that might not have otherwise attracted a Starbucks. Eric Holoman, the company's president, said the firm plans to talk with Starbucks about "applying additional filters to be certain that closure is the only option," he said.
Bloomfield, N.M, may also make its case to Starbucks, said Jo Duckwitz, who works in the city's procurement office.
Ms. Duckwitz does not think the customers in this city of less than 7,000 people will sorely miss the cafe, but it is a potential blow to the city's campaign to bring more shops to Bloomfield, she said. "We have very few retails outlets here, practically none," Ms. Duckwitz said.
Ms. Walker, the New York facilities manager, has not determined whether there is another Starbucks nearby the new office that will appease employees.
"Knowing Starbucks, there's probably one within a few blocks," she said. "But that's probably two blocks too far."
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