Triumph of the Swill, 90’s Edition: Starbucks Pushes Out Local Cafe, Owners Push Back

A fascinating little coffee business feature ran earlier this week in the New York Times, under their “About New York” heading and with a byline by Jim Dwyer. The story ran in the “N.Y. / Region” section of the paper, and it begins…

One day about three weeks ago, the morning rush in the Bean coffee shop in the East Village was reaching its crest when one of the baristas dashed downstairs to get the boss.

“He goes, ‘There’s a contractor upstairs,’ ” said Guy Puglia, the manager.

“I said, ‘What contractor?’

“He says, ‘Some guy with plans.’ ”

Standing in the crowd awaiting ritual squirts of caffeine and soy chai and medium foam was a middle-aged man with a briefcase, a roll of drawings under his arm, and a measuring tape.

“I said, ‘How can I help you?’ ” Mr. Puglia said. “He said, ‘I’m here for the renovation.’

“I said, ‘What renovation?’

“He says, ‘For the Starbucks.’ ”

You can read the rest of the feature here, and should, but it’s hardly a new story; Starbucks has spent the better part of your Team’s lifetimes perfecting this urban and suburban expansion model. This is a well-discussed American cultural phenomenon, akin to the Walmarting of every Main Street in Smalltown, USA. Unsurprsingly, “South Park” is responsible for this business meme’s most eloquent mocking, all the way back in 1998.

Certain cultures and regions reject Starbucksification (see: North Portland, New Orleans) while other places embrace it (the Starbucks to-go cup was a sexy NY fashion accessory as recently as 2003, and now, per this article, Manhattan has more Starbucks locations than subway stations). If we owned a multinational corporation looking to install store #6,900 on the island of Manhattan, The Bean’s block would look like easy pickins’ to us, too. Have you been there? They’re already doing kind of an indie-corporate late 90s Starbucks thing. Go look at their website.

The Bean is set to re-open just across the street, a la Tweek’s dad, in attempt to claw back at the Starbucks ogre. It’s amazing that these little micro-battles continue to play out in Manhattan between Starbucks and neighborhood joints, even now in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century, when you consider the amount of truly stunning coffee being conjured within 20 blocks of this scene.

Speaking of truly stunning… File Photo



  1. Dub says

    I’ve actually been to The Bean! I ducked in there once to escape the rain. The flavorless coffee burned my mouth severely, but I stayed dry. Good for them on fighting back, but maybe they can consult someone about improving their staple before reopening.

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