These are the three most recent Starbucks stores to open in Onondaga County. A barista who preferred to go unnamed was also overheard telling customers at a Starbucks Café not on the endangered list that these three are among the 600 company-operated venues slated to close by the end of March 2009.
The company has agreed to give each store 30 days notice once a closing date has been determined. As of July 11, the company had posted on its Web site a list of 50 cafes that will be closing. Three are in New York state, but none of them are in Central New York.
The closing of these three outlying Starbucks was not greeted with the expected joy by local coffee shops such as Freedom of Espresso. Starbucks has gone head to head with the local chain at Armory Square and in Fayetteville, where both the local baristas and the famed Seattle firm are just a stone’s throw from the thriving Towne Center shopping area.
John Dobbs is a co-owner of Freedom of Espresso. “Sure it’s gonna have an impact on us, but exactly where, how and when we can’t say. The stores that are closing are all a little distant from us. I would love to see a closure that affects us in a more direct way.” Dobbs, whose enterprise has grown from one to four coffee shops since 1995, has survived the arrival of Starbucks due to what he believes is his competitive advantage—fresh coffee. “Our big advantage is that we have the freshest coffee. We’re not like the big chains that have to truck it in—we’re roasting every few days.”
In the wake of the Starbucks’ retrenchment, Dobbs waxed philosophical as he contemplated the decline of the industry Goliath. “It’s an interesting thing to see that an operation of this status can be affected by a host of things, including their own decision making. Even a very successful company can be vulnerable to their own decision making. They made the change from emphasizing quality to going for quantity.”
Given the proximity of two the Starbucks’ locations to Freedom of Espresso, we wondered whether the local roaster felt targeted by the baristas from Seattle. “Whether they targeted us or not, I can’t say,” said Dobbs. “But they have a direct impact. The important thing is that we have been able to hold our own. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing we’re going to be fine. To be in competition with a business that large has shown us how to be patient, how to persevere and not be intimidated. Starbucks, in the lexicon of language, has become almost synonymous with coffee.”
Perhaps Freedom of Espresso should start selling CDs. “That didn’t work out too well for Starbucks,” Dobbs responded, “did it?”