In the beginning there was only one Starbucks, as I understand it, sprung from the primordial ooze, a humble coffee shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. But that was a long, long time ago, 35 years to be precise, and in the world we live in that is as distant as Carthage and the Punic Wars.
Now, near as I can figure, there are 12,000 Starbucks in this great Republic and overseas in places as unlikely as Oman. The Seattle Times, the newspaper of record in Starbucks country, says the company opens five shops a day worldwide. Published reports say that they plan to have 30,000 venues in the future. Actually, as I was writing this, the Associated Press moved a story saying that Starbucks had increased its target figure to 40,000! Wow! (If I type slowly it might soon be 50,000.) Business is just that good.
USA Today— which is to newspapers what Starbucks is to coffee— says there are Starbucks locations in every state selling 4 million coffee drinks a day. Every state. Holy smokes. And 37 foreign climes, too! There are 130 Starbucks in Seoul, South Korea. There are 51 in Beijing! And there are Starbucks in Bahrain, the Bahamas and Barcelona (16 stores).
For years the nearest Starbucks to my house was two miles away and then one day there was another Starbucks and it was maybe a mile away and then another, about a half-mile away. And a few months ago, one opened four blocks away. I think that’s about as close as they can get because of zoning. But you never know. We have a couple of eccentric neighbors. There’s a guy building a garage at the end of the block right now. At least he says it’s a garage.
I have not been to the Starbucks that is a mere four blocks from my house and I won’t be going. There is a coffee shop about six blocks in the other direction—The Evergreen. I have gone there for a decade since it opened. It serves locally roasted coffee. Its prices are reasonable. And I know the guys who own the shop.
On the next block I know the guys who own Video Americain. I go there, too. I don’t go to Blockbuster. I’m not some Luddite living in the woods in a yurt and eating brown rice. I am a citizen of a community and I patronize the businesses that make up my community. It’s not complicated. I don’t use Netflix because I don’t need anything in my life that further isolates me from my fellow man. (And how many films can I possibly watch?) Last summer, I ordered groceries online a couple times. It was a truly weird experience and I won’t do it again. I was ashamed.
Perhaps this places me in some fringe group, but I don’t believe that we need to further isolate ourselves. And we don’t need to think up more ways to homogenize American life. I don’t go to the giant movie theaters in the suburbs because there are three movie theaters— the Charles, the Rotunda and the Senator— that are locally owned that are closer to me. I don’t go to the giant chain bookstores. I have nothing against them, but there is The Ivy, a small, locally owned bookstore, near my house. And when you get into travel time and gas there’s not much of a savings. So why not go to The Ivy?
Ditto the hardware store. Schneider’s Hardware is three blocks from my house. They don’t have everything and some things cost a little more, but Schneider’s has been there for 110 years and I can walk there. And I am too old and too dense to understand why I should drive 45 minutes to a Home Depot in Parkville-the-Beautiful and stand in line for another 20 minutes to buy something I can get at Schneider’s in two minutes. A financial wizard I know once explained that I could actually get nails at Home Depot for a fraction of what I would pay at Schneider’s. The hitch was that I had to buy a hogshead of nails. I don’t need 9,000 nails. I need two. Plus, if I go to Schneider’s I can talk to Jeff Pratt, the owner, and I can talk to his dog, Rags. They know me. And that is what being part of a community is all about.
I go to the Farmers’ Market in Waverly on Saturday morning for the same reason. The selection of produce and flowers is impressive, especially in the summer and fall months. It’s not cheap, but the stuff is pretty good. And again, it’s part of living in a community.
We are hurtling at warp speed toward some pod universe, some weird dystopia, a world of spooky isolation where we will have less and less contact with others. All the stuff the futurists— Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury, et al— theorized about is happening. If it’s not already brewing on your block, it will be soon.