It is hard to think about them this way, but coffee house giant Starbucks was once a neighborhood business.  A quirky, local coffee shop, with a distinct product and atmosphere, which they replicated and replicated, and replicated.  Today they are the McDonald’s of coffee.  When you walk in the door you know what to expect, the smells, colors, the forced friendliness of the staff, the displays, food selection, and even the location of the bathrooms is predictable.

Calling them predictable is not a criticism, just a fact.   They have a nice product, and the predictable consistency makes Starbucks a safe, easy and comfortable choice. But it  is no longer  a neighborhood coffee shop. It doesnt’ have the personality  of The Bean Cup or Hubbard and Craven.  That is ok, I don’t go to Starbucks for personality.  But now, with the launch of their 15th Ave Coffee shop, they hope to return to the personal feel, and at least one writer thinks it is a bad idea.  Peter Merholtz says:

But 15th Ave Coffee & Tea is an experiment doomed to failure, because there’s no way a corporate coffee chain can create an authentic neighborhood coffeehouse experience. Your favorite local coffeehouse is the product of someone’s passion, dedication, and probable borderline craziness. 15th Ave is the product of corporate product design and development.

Peter hits the nail on the head when he says the local shop is the product of someone’s passion.  Passion is what drives successful small businesses, and it is hard to sustain the passion when you no longer touch the product every day.   But does growth have to spell doom for passion?  I don’t think so.  One way to retain the passion is to give the local manager ownership stake in the store, and in the decisions about what products they carry and the overall experience, but I somehow doubt Starbucks will allow that type of autonomy.

As a result, when I am on the south side, you will find me at the Bean Cup, and on the North side, I will be at H & C, becuase I dont believe you can Fake a Local Feel!