So how has the coffee giant responded? First it closed a bunch of stores and blamed it on the recession. Next they did some market research and are now undergoing a sneaky makeover. They are now experimenting by opening coffee houses without the Starbucks name or their green and white logo. They are trying to blend in and make people think they are some small, quaint, corky indy coffee house owned by local people. In Seattle, Starbucks swagger jacked damn near everything a local coffee house was doing down to the color of paint. Who is next? Will the Starbucks in the hood sudeenly start sporting a Red, Black and Green flag toss up a couple of Malacolm X or Marcus Garvey photos and make folks think its Black owned? Oh yeah I forgot a whole lot of businesses on 125th street in Harlem do that now..lol, but lemme not digress.
Will Starbucks suddenly adapt Southwestern decor and toss a Spanish sign here and there, play some Salsa, ranchero or tejano tunes and have up a Mexican, El Savadorian or Puerto Rican flag hanging out front to make us think its owned by folks in the barrio? Should we be upset by this? Haven’t we been pushing corporations to be more reflective of the community? If the communities needed are being served should we be celebrating this? Or do we want corporations to identify themselves as corporations?
Now many corporate folks are paying close attention to this latest ‘stealth marketing move by Starbucks because they know, people aren’t feeling the way corporations are doing things, so these entities are falling back and trying to hit us up by pretending to be something that we aren’t.. is this a good thing?
If imitation is the kindest form of flattery, the restaurant and bar known as Smith is feeling … well … flat-out worshiped.
Located next to the Starbucks store that will now be called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in Capitol Hill, Smith owner Linda Derschang said Thursday that everything from the paint color to the light fixtures inside the coffee shop have been replicated to match her rustic, mountaineer-like bar.
“It’s got a lot of salvaged wood, it’s the same paint color inside as Smith and some of the wood framed chalkboards look very, very similar,” she said. “If they had decided to do that look in a different neighborhood or city that would be one thing, but trying to position themselves as an independent coffee house? Where’s the independent spirit in knocking someone off?”
The remodeled Starbucks store, which will serve beer and wine as well its usual caffeinated fare, is making attempts to reflect its neighborhood location, spokeswoman Anna Kim-Williams said. The 15th Avenue store was expected to close last year but is being remodeled instead.
“We’re continuing our commitment to delivering specialty coffee excellence while refreshing our store design approach with an amplified focus on local relevance,” Kim-Williams said, citing the earthy store at First Avenue and Pike Street as an earlier example of the guise. “Ultimately, we hope customers will feel an enhanced sense of community and a deeper connection to our coffee heritage.”
But Derschang said she wishes Starbucks Corp. had approached her to ask if it was OK that the store is painted almost the same deep woods brown color as hers. All five of her restaurants, bars and coffee shops throughout Seattle have a signature look Derschang designed. Managers at another bar of hers, Odd Fellows Cafe and Bar, said they saw Starbucks designers frequent the store to observe its motif.
“If Smith was Subway sandwiches would they really try to match the paint color?” she said. “It’s definitely more to their advantage to look like Smith than Smith’s advantage to look like Starbucks.”
Smith manager Keara Matthiesen said she was asked on Wednesday by representatives of Starbucks Corp. about where the awnings were purchased.
“I told them I don’t know even though I know very well,” she said. “No more!”
Smith isn’t the first local store to feel it has been copy-catted by another. Two Tex-Mex restaurants duked it out in November after Pesos Kitchen and Lounge in Queen Anne claimed that Matador in Ballard had replicated its theme in violation of civil laws regulating the use of “identifying marks.”
After a court battle lasted over a month, Matador agreed to a settlement that included changes to its menu and interior as well as an undisclosed sum of money.
Derschang and Matthiesen will be meeting with representatives of Starbucks Corp. on Monday, Derschang said. She hopes to give the designers a chance to make changes before even considering a lawsuit, she said.
Other neighborhood bars and coffee shops aren’t as concerned about the change in their neighbor’s appearance and product.
“In today’s economy, everybody’s trying to stay afloat,” said Caffe Ladro manager Courtney Howard. “If they’re trying to go back to the neighborhood feel … more power to them.”
Starbucks is planning to open two more Seattle-area stores without the Starbucks name.
Analyst Patricia Edwards said the move to invoke more of a coffee house aura is a return to the roots of artsy, local shops that “(CEO) Howard (Schultz) has always been so enamored with.”
If it brings more traffic in during the afternoon and evening hours, she said that is reason to applaud the stock price slumping company.
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