Sunday, June 3, 2012

Homework, Take Three, Draft One

Every Haven its Hammarplast

In the early 1980s, Howard Schultz, a new employee to the Starbucks Coffee Company, visited Milan on a buying trip for good coffee beans.  Walking the streets of Milan, he was struck by the proliferation number of coffee bars.  Old men, young men, and women of all ages stood at the counters, sipped cappuccinos, and threw out lira and lies.  More than the lattes, though, Schultz connected with the culture of the neighborhood coffee bar.  These people had what Schultz would come to market as a "third place."  It wasn't home, it wasn't work, it was somewhere else, and that somewhere was a rich --- and marketable--part of life.  Since that first buying trip, the Starbucks Company, at times without Schultz, has grown to almost 13,000 stores, more stores than only McDonalds and Subway in the United States.

Anyone who has spent more than a few days driving the streets of the United States-- or of most other countries--recognizes the black-and-white Starbucks Siren, surrounded by her bright green moat.  It is true that Schultz and crew have realized Schultz's original vision.  There is, as some say, truly "a Starbucks on every corner."  Some might see this as coffee house overload, as a corporate street-washing, but these coffee companies are providing a valuable service to each neighborhood that has one.  Every neighborhood needs a local coffee shop.

Coffee shops offer neutral ground.  Because life is not pH balanced has a natural tension ebb and flow, most people need a place that is neutral.  Whether for a job interview, a first date, or a business meeting, coffee shops are spots where no one but the barista has the upper hand.  All are welcome to come, stay a while, and take care of whatever business they have . . . or don't.  The coffee shop is the quintessential pressure-free zone.

Most coffee shops have a variety of food and beverage options.  Starbucks has a range of espresso drinks: frozen, iced, and hot, a range of tea drinks, and smoothies and other coffee-free options.  In the last few years, the company has even expanded its food offerings, including warmed sandwiches and breakfast wraps.  There is something for everyone at most coffee shops.

Most important of all, coffee shops can serve as the  modern community center.  In ancient times, settlements were built around the temple, the cathedral, or the church.  Often, the monks, priests, and clergy would also serve as the teachers, lawyers, and doctors of the villages.  In today's more secular society, coffee houses are a natural "town center."  An emerging dominant philosophy of valuing all equally finds its freedom in a place where nothing reigns but the freshest brew.

Though to some, the domination presence of coffee shops on nearly every corner seems like too much, each of these coffee stores is serving a valuable purpose for the culture of the neighborhood.  It is providing that "third place" environment that is neither home nor work, but something equally as worthy worthwhile important.  So, the next time you spend $3.00 on a drink at a coffee shop, consider it an investment in the neighborhood. 



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