Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Support Your Local Independent Everything

I really don't have that much against Starbucks. Well, okay, ordinarily I make a concerted effort to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks (since I'm often a pedestrian myself), but I refuse to stop for people waiting to cross the street to Starbucks, and my Starbucks-going friends wisely use the euphemism "coffee shop" around me when discussing experiences they've had at their friendly neighborhood Starbucks. Or their OTHER friendly neighborhood Starbucks. Or their OTHER friendly neigh -- okay, fine. I think we can all agree there are a lot of fucking Starbucks. Which is sort of my problem with them. Holy ubiquitous, batman.

I know it's really cool and hip and edgy to wear a lot of black eyeliner and hate things like Starbucks these days, but I'm not that kind of cool and I don't look good in eyeliner. So it's not that. You won't find me at the next IMF protest (because, you know, people throw stuff at those), but if there's a local option you definitely won't find me at a chain.

Never have I been more glad of this policy than I was this morning. There are two coffee shops within a block of my house. I can see Fair Grounds, my local indie, from my bedroom window, and Starbucks is across the street from that. I go to Fair Gounds. Obviously. But I usually don't go to work as early as I have been this week so I've never concerned myself with what time they open.

They open at 7:00, which I discovered at 6:45 this morning when I opened the door and found the coffee shop girl (I think her name is Kirsten) just a few steps ahead of me on the darkened stairs. "Uh, I guess you're not open yet," I said glancing across the street at the brightly-lit Starbucks and contemplating selling out. "We open around 7, but what can I get you?" Kirsten asked as she flipped on lights. "Well I wanted some coffee, but. . ." (PS, of COURSE I wanted some coffee, I was AT a fucking coffee shop, right? But that's the best I can function without caffeine.) "It'll take me three minutes to make coffee. Are you coming up?" Kirsten asked while I stood in the doorway wondering whether it would be worse to go to Starbucks or to go without coffee or to disturb Kirsten before she was even open. "Uhhhhh. . .are you sure that's okay?" I asked. "What size do you want, sweetie?" said Kirsten.

See, I bet they don't call you "sweetie" at Starbucks. And when I asked for a medium, Kirsten didn't make me repeat myself in some stupid elitist yuppie code. She just gave me a medium coffee. Kirsten ROCKS! I can tell you this: nobody's even allowed to talk to me for the first 20 minutes or so that I'm at work. I even have a sign on my classroom door indicating that I am not to be bothered until 7:15 at the earliest. And here's Kirsten happily brewing me coffee and calling me sweetie a mere three minutes after she's walked in the door, before she's even OPEN. You gotta love that girl.

And it's not just Kirsten and Fair Grounds. According to the Andersonville study, local businesses reinvest THREE TIMES as much money in their communities as corporate chains do. Why why WHY would anyone go to Starbucks when Fair Grounds is right across the street?! Is the carmel macchiato really that good? Is the fate of your soul really that trivial?


Lulu said...

I have no problem getting my coffee at Starbucks. I do it every morning. It is fashionable to hate them, and I would probably go to the little indie coffee shop in my neighborhood if A, I were able to park without a problem, and B, they actually made decent iced coffee. (I must have iced coffee when it is hot, or I will die. And the local place makes terrible iced drinks.)

I am a former Starbucks employee. I was a barista, a key-holder, an assistant manager and a manager, as well as spending one Christmas as the person who drove from store to store setting up all the holiday displays. And I have to say, they treat their employees far better than any indie business I know. Great medical, decent pay, reasonable was a really good place to work.

I do have some problems with their driving indie businesses out of neighborhoods, but here in Chicago at least, they have also made an effort to go into marginal neighborhoods and promote economic development.

It's way more complicated than black and white, as I am sure you know....and for the record, they call me "Lauren" at my local Starbucks. ;-)

brian said...

Oh no, you'd better hope Panty Predicament Phil doesn't read this. He might be inclined to bitch about how he hates people who hate Starbuck's becuase hating Starbucks is totally cool.

Kirsten sounds like a really great girl.

Melissa said...

1. Kirsten has way more patience and cheer than me. I would have made you coffee, but unless I happened to have been in a really fucking great mood for some reason, you would have known full well that I was supremely annoyed. But, see, I'm like you - don't fucking talk to me for the first hour I'm up.

2. This is going to probably ban all chances I have of marrying your brother, because you're both going to stop communicating with me, but I don't really have a problem with chain stores. Here's why - all chain stores once were a single store, and good for them for being so successful that they were able to spread across the country. I know not all of them have decent wages or benefits, but that can be said for local places as well. As odd as it is, because I'm a Socialist when it comes to politics, I'm also a capitalist. Plus, if a local place wants my business, offer me, at the same or better price, the product that the chain supplies and be just as convenient.

Do you think I am evil now?

Meaghab said...

Hmm...being the manager of an independent bookstore, I have to protest chain bookstores, at the very least.

As many a customer has commented while in our stores, you won't find half of the books we carry at B&N. You also won't find employees who read the books in their stores. And, in general, they don't give a rat's ass about you.

No, we don't get benefits, not in the traditional sense. But we don't have to wear a uniform to work. We're not treated like a number. We regularly interact with the owner and proffer advice. We get to talk to our customers about books. And they love that!

A benefit of shopping at an independent? You're supporting individuals who are trying to make a living to give you something that you can't find anywhere else.

It's capitalism, but somewhat still keeping with that myth of the American Dream, pull yourself up by your boostraps, nation of unique individuals, etc. Not conforming to a single corporate vision of what you should like and buy.

Meaghan said...

Umm, I may work in a bookstore, but it doesn't mean I can spell my own name, apparently.

lulu said...

Bookstores are different. To me the main evil of B&N and Borders is not that they are chains exactly. The evil of the chain bookstores is that they end up controlling what books get published. I have no idea what percentage of books are purchased at the big box stores or Amazon, but let's just say 80% (I bet it's more) So suddenly, the book buyers for two stores are responsible for buying 80% of books in this country, and you know that a lot of their decisions are going to be based on what publisher has the best deals, and who publisher's rep has the best legs.

Which means that books from large publishing houses are going to make it to the shelves, and little publishers will have fewer and fewer places to sell their books.

Maritza said...

I don't go to Starbucks because:
1. I don't like their coffee
2. I don't like the "grande" business
3. I don't like the employees attitude. I don't need to pay $3.00 for coffee and get an eyeroll for free.

Maybe its a New York City thing but when I say a regular coffee, it means a coffee, small, milk and sugar. Don't tell me, Brooklyn Starbuck WorkerBee that you have forgotten what a regular coffee is!

Chris said...

The one bit of power I have over chain stores is to not shop at them. Even though I know it's capitalism and as an Amurican I should cheer it on, I'm troubled by one thing - consolidation. Everything is getting consolidated - banks, media outlets, retailers, etc. This means more and more power, influence, and wealth into fewer and fewer hands. It'd be a different story if the guys at the top weren't so goddamn greedy, but they are. This, I believe, will be the eventual downfall of the "American Experiment". It will get too top-heavy and the vast masses will get fed up. It's probably a long way off, but it seems to be a common theme as to why empires go extinct.

Brian said...

Um, the first time I read this Kristen's name was "Star".

Now I'm confused and a little sad because I had a pretty funny comment about hippies naming their kids silly things like Star.

Needless to say, Starbucks is a terrible place. But, Melissa, the whole "Franklin's Tower" thing from earlier suggests that calling off the wedding on the basis of you being okay with chain stores (and a silly t.v show) is pretty crazy.

Phil said...

Wow. Brian is calling me names on other peoples site too. It's to bad, cause he won't let me post comments on his site and he is accumulating more bad karma... Anyway, I apoligize for the argument being brought to your blog Megan.

I don't drink coffee but my wife does and we go to the local indie, Chocolate Moon here.

In defense of Starbuck's, when filming in a Starbucks they require the production to use the actual baristars. Thus forceing the production to make them part of the actor's union s.a.g.

Megan said...

One and all: Perhaps I didn't make it clear that I really don't have all that much against Starbucks, I just like my local indie BETTER. And that my point, in general, was about supporting local businesses over corporate chains.

Lulu: I imagine the benefits Starbucks offers to its employees are better than those offered by Fair Grounds. However, most corporate behemoths do not behave this way.

Brian: Phil and I have actually had a nice little comment exchange about teacher pay. And Kirsten IS a pretty cool chick.

Melissa: You are SO done! :) If chains would behave the way they did before they became chains, and if they were actually committed to their communities. . .maybe.

Meaghan: There are a lot of ways to spell "meaghan." And yes, indies offer a level of customer service that chains don't. And I find that chains can never quite manufacture the kind of ambience an independent business seems to come by honestly.

Lulu: This is a MAJOR concern and a free speech issue, as far as I'm concerned. So get your ass to your nearest Booksense bookstore. I promise they're not looking at you funny!

Maritza: Yes, the secret clubhouses talk is annoying.

Chris: I'm troubled by more than consolidation, although I guess it's consolidation that facilitates all the other stuff I'm troubled about. And you are under no obligation to cheer capitalism.

Brian: It's a slippery slope. Before you know it you'll be marrying a bona fide Republican. But I still heart Melissa.

Phil: For the record, Brian is my little brother and if he acts a bit crazy at times I'm still in his corner, although I've been telling him since he was two not to call people names. And you can't leave comments on his blog because he's in beta (like me) and you're not. It's not a personal thing.

That is an admirable practice. I really don't have anything against Starbucks except that it's a corporate chain and I have a local alternative.

Brian and Phil: My advice as a big sister and a stranger, respectively, is to cut it out already. Please.

Phil said...


You couldn't be more right. Thanks for your level head mediation in this.

I apoligize to Brian making him the focus of my post as well as my anger.

I don't expect to make that mistake with anyone again. Lesson Learned.

Thanks for reading.

Megan said...

That's why they pay me the big bucks, Phil. Let's just hope Brian will respect the cease-fire.

vikkitikkitavi said...

My brother founded and owns his own ISP. He thought the big guys would have put him out of business years ago, but it hasn't happened yet. Seems like some people are still willing to pay a little more for good, personal service.

And that's what has to happen.

Not that the big guys haven't tried to buy him out. They have. And it's been tempting for him to take the money and run, but he doesn't.

That's another thing that has to happen.

Grant Miller said...

The only other "indie" coffee shop in my town is run by Christians who scatter copies of the "Left Behind" series at the tables. Not my cup of tea.

But, honestly, Starbucks - when compared to other corporate behemoths is rather saintly. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other more scorn deserving global corporations. Plus, I enjoy their coffee.

James said...

I have to say, I've had just as much attitude-laden service at FG as at the place across the street, if not more so. And the product dispenced at the indie is inconsistent, in my opinion.

Noonan said...

As a regular Starbucks consumer, I don't know that I am supporting the "big man" as much as I am feeding my caffeine addiction. Everything must be done in moderation - and as long as I remember to stop at the local kids' lemonade stand or include $5 at the checkout for fundraisers, I feel comfortable paying for the venti skim vanilla latte. I do admit that the names of the drinks, etc., can be a bit ridiculous. But I dig the music and the comfort of my local suburban Starbucks . . . if there's a local independent one then I'd go there, too. I'm an equal opportunity coffee drinker.

Megan said...

Vikki: Excellent point. I'm sure it's very tempting for small businesses to sell out to the big guys.

Grant: I know, I know! And I wouldn't go to the Christian coffee shop either.

James: I've NEVER gotten any attitude at Fair Grounds, but maybe that's just me. And is your profile intentionally unavailable? Because that's a bit, I don't know, weird.

Noonan: I forgive you your Starbucks addiction. Plus, you do get hit on pretty much every time you there, and I guess that's a bonus.