How Starbucks didn’t kill the indie coffee shop

Everyone is being mean to Howard Schultz since he announced his presidential ambitions, so I wrote something a little nicer for the Washington Examiner. An excerpt:

Though it seems weird to think about now, there was a time when people genuinely worried that Starbucks would kill off all the local coffee shops. “Starbucks’ policy is to drop ‘clusters’ of outlets in urban areas already dotted with cafés and espresso bars,” warned Naomi Klein in her 1999 book No Logo. “This strategy relies just as heavily on an economy of scale as Wal-Mart’s does and the effect on competitors is much the same.” The company’s aggressive approach to real estate deals was seen as an unfair competitive advantage and brought on at least one antitrust lawsuit from an aggrieved coffee shop owner.

As recently as 2007, the idea that local shops could not only survive but even thrive in competition with Starbucks was taken as Slate-worthy contrarianism. But as was evident even then, America’s appetite for specialty coffee wasn’t a fixed pie to be divvied up between mom and pop shops and big corporations. Schultz’s company helped nurture a market that had barely existed before, introducing Americans to unfamiliar Italian (or at least Italian-ish) espresso drinks in a comfortable atmosphere.

For a longer, more detailed take, see also my 2008 piece from Doublethink.


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