It was on a seemingly ordinary day in mid-December 2009. In southwest Michigan that means everything had been bathed in slate gray and muddy brown. It was cold and dreary and Dickensian. The cuffs of my pants were soaking wet and cold and I knew later they would dry with those annoying white rings left behind from the salt that line the roads and parking lots. The
chilly, 20-degree air had slipped down my collar and wrapped me in a stubborn, cranky chill.
And then, I stopped at a Starbucks. Now, hear me out. When I stepped inside, the store had been transformed into its traditional holiday décor. Shades of red were everywhere, bags of Christmas blend coffee lined the shelves, there were snowmen and snowflakes clinging to the windows and I swear, I walked through the door and was filled with joy.
Somewhat obsessed with coffee, I’m a big supporter of smaller, independent roasters. When I travel, I collect 1 lb. bags of local roasts like some people collect shot glasses.
But there’s something about Starbucks…
This year it hit me as I stood in line shortly before midnight on Thanksgiving. Starbucks was my first stop on an evening when
friends frantically shop for deals and I tag along to people watch and pick up a movie or two. Inside, the line was long but even with the large crowd, the late hour, the barista recognized me from my regular Saturday and Sunday morning stops – kind of like your neighborhood coffeehouse. I stocked up on bags of Christmas blend – gifts for the holidays.
Lately, the baristas have been good at upselling me, getting me to buy just about any bag of coffee they’re pushing at the moment. This year, for the holiday, Starbucks is betting on its new home brewing system. The market for single cup brewers is … well … brewing (oh, come on) and challenging the beliefs of some purists.
The truth is – if I buy a single cup brewer as this Wall Street Journal article predicts I will – it may not be Starbucks’ new Verismo. The brand has beaten tough economic times and a loss in company direction. It’s done a lot of things right. I like their coffee, I really do. But I’ll be curious to see if the Verismo can beat the biggest element of Starbucks’ success: a very genuine sense of place.
The catchy music, the studious décor, the newspapers and the easy-to-work-in ambiance. The red and the nowmen and the joy. You can never underestimate the importance of a sense of place – the experience you get as a customer, when you’re coming in from a cold, dismal day to a place that offers you more than just some caffeine but rather, comfort in a cup.