Quit picking on Starbucks.

I like the concept of a coffee culture. Caffeine is my vice of choice and Starbucks enhances the experience. Starbucks didn’t take away any independent coffee shops around here. They were already mostly gone. We have a couple of small, family-run restaurants left, but we didn’t really have a meet-me-for-coffee place until Starbucks built several.

Of the four Starbucks locations close to me, one is so popular that my only complaint is it’s tough to find a seat. I love the idea of being comfortable hanging around with your latte for as long as you want, until the concept means I can’t find a table. One location in my small town has become a satellite office, with every surface covered with laptops, simultaneous cell phone conversations, and meetings large enough to occupy several tables pushed together.

So now I avoid peak times. Early mornings and mid-afternoons are best. That’s when my favorite Starbucks resembles exactly the kind of coffee-shop-as-small-town-microcosm their critics claim they eroded. At one of the long wooden tables there’s a moms' group with strollers tucked into a nearby corner. Another couple of tables hosts knitters. Knitters who chat. Very early in the morning, a phalanx of uniformed peace officers waits to order. Arriving mid-afternoon, with walkers and canes, here come the rabble-rousing residents of the senior community across the road.

There’s moaning about Starbucks being such a chain operation. I’m personally comforted by the consistency of their look and feel, the clean restrooms, and even the music they play. Critics scoff at the “pretension” of their coffee language – completely made up to impart the aura of a never-did-exist European coffee experience. Clever marketing, I say.

But I’m not objective, because I have a small entrepreneurial crush on Howard Schultz, who put a group together to buy out the originators of the Starbucks brand in Seattle and personally became involved (some say too involved) in every aspect of every cup of coffee sold. Everything about the building of the company interests me, its ups and downs and adjustments, and Schultz’ buck-stops-here recent comeback after closing many stores.

If you have a welcoming, independent local coffee shop that serves all your needs, you’re lucky, and I will never demean the efficiency of a roadside McDonald’s for coffee and a baked apple pie, but for everyday caffeine ingestion in pleasant circumstances, Starbucks is just fine.


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