RIGHT WHEN YOU'RE ABOUT to lose faith in humanity, sometimes something happens that heartens you, restores your hope, makes you believe again. After reading in the papers day after day about the selfish, self-centered and superficial attitudes and behaviors perpetually displayed across our nation -- and the world -- you can start to despair of any good coming of the human race.
Then you open the paper one morning and read the headline saying that in community after community across America, ordinary people are banding together to fight for what's right, to keep their heritage, to save what's good in America. I am, of course, talking about the fight to save the 600 Starbucks locations slated for closing by the Starbucks Corporation (NYSE: SBUX).
Perhaps I should have seen this more caring side of mankind in the response that came last year when the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation (NYSE: KKD), in a move eerily foreboding the Starbucks pullback, cut back on its locations across the country. I should have remembered the words of Kim Valdez, an administrative assistant at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, Calif., who had stopped by on the last day to buy four dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts for her co-workers: "We're devastated." Then despondently she repeated, "We're devastated."
The devastation that followed in the wake of the Krispy Kreme closings now seems like the calm before the storm. The Starbucks pullback is not a local tragedy, like say, Katrina; this is a tsunami that has swept across an entire nation.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in towns as small as Bloomfield, N.M., and metropolises as large as New York, customers and city officials are writing letters, placing phone calls, circulating petitions and otherwise pleading with the coffee company to change its corporate mind.
Across the country, people can see that shuttering a Starbucks is not a minor economic jolt; it's the loss of a culture. As a blogger for the Minneapolis Star Tribune observed: "Starbucks was like an embassy of a country where people sat around and read foreign newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, and discussed things."
According to a report by London's Channel 4 News, at hearing of one planned Starbucks closing, one young New York woman wailed, "Honestly, it's just awful."
The news website Boston.com also brought us a report that Newton, Mass., resident Denis Goodwin is boiling mad -- and doing something about it. Boston.com said that Goodwin had started an online petition to protest the closing of the Starbucks at 70 Union Street. Between July 15, 2008 at 12:42 a.m. until July 22, 2008 at 9:44 p.m., 182 people had offered their support to Goodwin at savemystarbucks.com.
And North Carolina has not escaped the bloody Starbucks axe. Of the 10 slated store closings in the state, Charlotte will be the hardest hit, with fully half of the statewide total set for its metro area. Winston-Salem, previously hard hit by the triple whammy of closures in the area's mainstay tobacco, textile and furniture industries, and following on the heels of last year's melt-down at the Winston-Salem-based Krispy Kreme Corporation, is losing one tenth of its 10 Starbucks locations.
We haven't seen the same level of direct political action here in Chapel Hill that we have seen around the country, perhaps because, thank God, we've been largely spared. Greater Chapel Hill is scheduled only to lose the store at Chatham Downs, which Chapel Hill residents will be relieved to know is actually in Chatham County.
Why close that location? You may think that the obvious answer is that even Starbucks Corporation, while wanting to cut costs, wouldn't dare to touch the Southern Part of Heaven -- but careful detective work by the investigative staff at GaryGaddy.com suggests otherwise. A spatial analysis reveals the presence of another Starbucks location approximately 150 feet from the Chatham Downs site, inside an adjacent Harris-Teeter grocery store. Still, this closing must remind us all that life itself, our Franklin Street Starbucks included, hangs by a thread.
But I would like for my readers to note that America has survived a revolution, a civil war and two world wars. If we band together, we can survive this heartless downsizing by the Starbucks Coffee Company as well.
Gary D. Gaddy, who often says like his grandmother used to say, "I like coffee, but coffee don't like me," loves the smell of fresh ground or perked coffee, but seems to be seriously allergic to the substance.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday July 24, 2008.
Coyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy