My email pitched me double stars today and reflexively I opened my Starbucks iPhone app and started looking at the specialty drinks menu. Then I remembered – for the umpteenth time this winter — the Starbucks I loved is gone. At least until we all get vaccinated. And probably forever. Where I live it’s just grab and go. Or sit like a jerk in the car for a half hour waiting for carloads of friends and family ahead of me to order in real time. 5 adults and 3 kids in a Chevy Suburban ordering Artisan drinks like a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino with extra whipped cream and 5 pumps Frappuccino Roast and Mocha Drizzle and Caramel Brulee topping – oh – and a touch – just a touch of Cinnamon Powder. Apparently people in cars aren’t capable of ordering ahead – in app. Leading me to wonder how the average family can even AFFORD Starbucks with so many jobs lost. And worse – whether ANY of us should be so indulgent when a few miles away so many others – their lives destroyed by the decimated travel industry, closed restaurants and other bankrupt small businesses are lined up at food banks, desperate for a meal.
But the Starbucks habit can be hard to shake. The coffee is really good. And hot in these sub-freezing temperatures. And the zillion calorie grilled cheese sandwich, which the British coffee chain Costa calls a cheese toastie – much truer to form – is totally yummy.
But not in a cramped Mini Cooper – with the cheese dripping onto my coat and the coffee constantly in danger of spilling everywhere. Not now. Maybe. Not. Ever. Again.
Starbucks used to be the closest thing you could find to a real Greenwich Village coffee house north of Houston Street. Each one was darkish, with big brown couches and easy chairs. The one on Columbus Avenue – up on New York City’s West Side – was always full, the chairs and tables pulled wherever groups of friends wanted them. The jazz playlist soothing, Then Starbucks started opening stores on almost every city corner. They got smaller. Fewer places to sit and work if you were a lonely freelancer, longing just to look at other people. And maybe exchange a smile. Then came the suburbs. Suddenly my nice, darkish, calming getaway turned corporate. Nothing old and comfortably rumpled. Just oblong, strip mall stores with plain tables and wooden chairs always lined up in rows. Always one big business meeting table. Stuffed into the ever smaller spaces. No charm. The lonely people with their laptops lined up along a wall. Starring out at the empty space.
And then – nearly a year ago now – COVID-19 invaded. And Starbucks changed its image. Those stores on every corner in the city? Many closed forever, the rest grab and go. The few tables inside – taped off. The office workers who streamed into the cities and into Starbucks for morning coffee or a late lunch – gone. Working at home. Maybe permanently. Whether they want to or not. Stores closing in the suburbs as well. And in their place the ubiquitous drive throughs. MacDonald’s with better but much more expensive coffee. And no fries. You’ve heard about the COVID 15? Pounds, that is? Never getting out of your car hasn’t helped.
So. Double stars Starbucks? I don’t think so. Not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe – not ever.