Hate corporate culture as much as you wish to, but sometimes there exists certain benefits that earlier was simply not available. For e.g. Starbucks Coffee is targeted for corporatizing coffee culture and commercializing it but in fact, it has been shown that it has encouraged and even helped flourish the creation of local individual coffee shops [via Dan Drezner]. Dan notes that, “Bellisimo Coffee Infogroup, a consulting company for coffee shops, notes that Starbucks plays an important role in giving people their first gourmet coffee experience, after which they can and often do branch out to try out other sources.”
I can personally attest to that fact. While in Atlanta, my coffee café habit started out by frequenting the Starbucks in Decatur downtown but it wasn’t long before I walked around the block to sample coffee (and ambience) at the local favorite Java Monkey. After I moved away from Decatur, I returned to the local Starbucks but I would have loved if there was a local inde-café, which usually is cosier. In College Station, I mix it up by frequenting Starbucks, the Starbucks café in Barnes and Nobles, and Sweet Eugenes, a local café. Of course, Sweet Eugenes has a pleasant and eclectic ambience but the personal and often friendly service at Starbucks stores isn’t bad either. I wouldn’t call it the perversion of corporate culture.
There might have been talk of Starbucks shutting down local cafes and causing much anguish among local residents. But honestly, they serve different clienteles while keeping some overlapping clients happy as well. “According to the Portland Yellow Pages, before Starbucks came to Portland in 1989, there were 28 coffee shops in the city. Today, there are 91 non-Starbucks coffeehouses in Portland proper, compared with the chain’s 48 stores within city limits” [source: Willamette Weekly]. Starbucks thus may have reinvented or even introduced the coffee culture in the United States [on a mass scale].
Coffee cafes became popular in India only in the past few years and now are considered epitomes of cool. Barista, Café Coffee Day, and Mocha are just few of the numerous coffee cafes that have suddenly sprung up in the Indian metros. Tea and coffee has always been part of Indian culture and there have always existed the chai-ki-tapri but never before was it associated with a cool factor that these outlets lent to it; quite similar to the way Starbucks expanded the American market. The lesson is clear — find a market demand and fulfill that demand by carving your unique niche so even if others follow suit, you still reap rewards of being first off the block. Creating a market and thus opening avenues of individual entrepreneurs to customize their coffee ideas is definitely a good thing, and thanks to Starbucks, it might even be financial viable. I bet there are thousand other ideas staring right at you and just waiting to be exploited. We just have to take a step back and look at things with a fresh perspective.
What does such entrepreneurship hold for cityscapes? Well, urbanscapes are continually reshaped by changing trends and unless we end up with the ugly monstrosity that is the strip mall, new trends are always assimilated into a city’s fabric and identity. Seattle is one city that can be easily a coffee connoisseur’s delight. But to say that this affinity is restricted only on the surface would be untrue. Cities adopt corporatization if done well and aesthetically. Heck, it can even be a primary attraction. Remember Times Square?