Friday, December 12, 2008

Starbucks versus homegrown

This issue came up at Civic By Design on Tuesday, during a talk from AIA's Phil Kuttner and YMCA's Jarrett Royster. The AIA has been working for months to come up with some plans for the Central Avenue "international corridor" of ethnic restaurants between Eastway and Eastland Mall. (Note: This is just a recommended way of looking at things, will have no force of law or any city requirements. Though come to think of it, even the city's own adopted plans have no force of law. But I digress.)

Lots of interest in the room, of course. But Nancy Pierce of Merry Oaks neighborhood (and a gazillion other local activities) mentioned that after East Charlotte folks noticed the severe lack of Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Kinkos and other well-known and useful businesses in their part of town, they asked retailers and were told that the "International Corridor" reputation might be part of the problem keeping those businesses away.

Well, said a few folks on Tuesday, we don't want those chains anyway. We prefer authentic, locally owned businesses.

Later, Tom Warshauer from the city's Economic Development department, mused that many people see chains such as Starbucks as validation.

What do you think? Would you rather have Starbucks or something local? Would you want Starbucks if it meant the local folks got squeezed out? Or is the whole neighborhood development evolution a process that residents really don't have control of anyway? And what, if anything, could a local government do about any of that? (Other than finding a good BBQ joint, of course -- see my previous. And if you think Bubba's is great BBQ you need to get out more. As to Old Hickory House, that's good barbecue for people who don't really like N.C.-style barbecue. Mississippi people. Virginia people. Florida people.)

Oh, and please go to and fill out their survey.


Anonymous said...

"As to Old Hickory House, that's good barbecue for people who don't really like N.C.-style barbecue. Mississippi people. Virginia people. Florida people.)"

If it is not NC then it is not good bbq

Anonymous said...

As a Charlotte native who grew up right off of the Central Avenue corridor, I can tell you that we DID have those businesses until the illegal immigrants and gangs took over while Charlotte police and Charlotte government looked the other way. OF COURSE we want major chains on the east side! But we won't get it until the illegals and criminals leave this part of town or are arrested. Original residents didn't WANT it to become an international corridor--it was forced on us! Doesn't anyone understand this?????? We used to be just like any other part of town until we were involuntarily "taken over."

Anonymous said...

Previous poster, what are you talking about? Central Avenue is the coolest street in Charlotte because it is international and eclectic. Central was very cutting edge long before the rest of the city finally decided it was cool to be urban. And not every foreigner is illegal. Open your mind.

As for Mary, Nova's makes a great variety of coffees and other related drinks. If a Starbucks want to come to the neighborhood, bring it on. Sorry to burst your bubble, but locals and chains can coexist and thrive. ope your mind too.

Anonymous said...

I concur with the third poster. I live in Dilworth. East Blvd is a thriving mix of chain and locally owned retail. It can all work together.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that Starbucks is what we need on Central Ave. I took a date the other night to the Landmark diner for one of the HUGE and YUMMY slices of cake and some coffee. There were two police officers sitting at a nearby table and the place was filled with people representing much of the diversity of Charlotte. It has a fun, neighborhood feeling - and is right around the corner from my house.

Economic development happens when you get the right mix of govt services, private investment, and market. Market saturation, deficient govt investment/attention (schools/crime), and poor development/zoning are some of the Central Ave ills. Charlotte has let the East side down. A recent example: while SouthPark receives resources like the temporary installation of the police skytower, East Charlotte retail centers do not.

I've lived in cities with a "cafe culture". That happens as a result of climate, disposable income, civic planning - and having something to look at. With real street life there's always a show - people looking at people and LIVING not just watching SUVs drive past. I guess it's the reverse of what some of my peers did in high school - cruise Franklin Blvd in Gastonia! Redeveloping Eastland as a walkable center will help. Think of it like East Side's Freedom Park with shops, a library, and other govt svcs nearby. Once you park your car or arrive by transit, you can do all your activities on foot.

As tourists we visit vibrant city centers - Paris was mentioned in Mary's posts recently. Paris is a huge city - and not just the river front we see in the pictures. Not every neighborhood will look like that polished area - not everyone can afford it. Central Ave and the neighborhoods along it need to be a place that's safe with good schools and retail to support the folks that live there.

Anonymous said...

There is the perception that Starbucks has had great success as a so-called ‘third place,’ where people can gather when not at work or home. This is true in traditional neighborhoods and urban centers. But more recently Starbucks plans for expansion have failed. Starbucks’ executives claim that competition and oversaturation of markets hampered their expansion plans and are the reasons behind their plans to close 600 stores across the country. But they are missing a key element of behavior economics in that Starbuck’s has become a victim of suburban sprawl. How can Starbucks claim superior status as a place when located on stand-alone commercial pads, isolated from walkable urbanism on the side of highways, or hidden inside big box stores surrounded by parking lots? Sprawl is a major contributor to the Starbucks’ brand being ditched by a growing number of Americans. Starbucks’ cafes are no longer exclusively located in great, good urbanism, so they no longer carry the appeal of a great, good place. Starbucks has lost its soul to sprawl.

As Central Avenuites attempt to direct Central Avenue’s future away from placeless suburban sprawl into place-based, good urbanism, the community should be wary of co-branding Central Avenue’s authenticity with the currently tarnished reputation of Starbucks. Our advice to Starbucks is they need to reclaim their soul by going back to where they started – locating in traditional main streets, urban squres and new urban places built on these models. Perhaps if Starbucks heeds this advice, they could then co-brand their expansion strategy exclusively with community groups like the Central Avenuites and work with them to jump start the right approach for redeveloping great good place-based urbanism. The places that will be resilient to the recession and grow as desirable places in the 21st century are diverse with walkable, compact, connected, mixed-use and mixed-income urbanism. Central Aveunue will lead the way.

Devil's Dictionary said...

"International Corridor" - a melange of nail shops, pawnbrokers and restaurants filling out the low end of the sanitation ratings that all the fashionable forward-thinking types have really been meaning to visit.

And when this fails (and it will) the same businesses will accuse the city of redlining them into a particular area.

As for this comment:
Starbucks’ cafes are no longer exclusively located in great, good urbanism, so they no longer carry the appeal of a great, good place. Starbucks has lost its soul to sprawl.

Is it your contention that there are people who live in "good" urban spaces who would otherwise enjoy Starbucks' products and their urban locations but no longer do because the chain also operates in the 'burbs? Such exquisite sensitivities!

Anonymous said...

As the originator of the comment Mary quotes let me make clear that my neighbors' concern several years ago (during a major rezoning issue on Central Avenue when we were thinking about what retail might go into a mixed use project) was not for Starbucks itself. I'm not even sure Starbucks was mentioned -- as Tom said Starbucks is kind of an icon for a neighborhood having "arrived". . The expressed desire was for more businesses -- home grown or otherwise -- that middle-class English speaking families use in their everyday life. Yes, we love the international restaurants and we celebrate the diversity of our business corridor, but we still have to drive across town to South End or East Boulevard for too many goods and services. Yes, the Plaza Central district has everything-- but move beyond Morningside and try to find a good bookstore, a whole grain bakery, a bagel shop, a "fern bar", a bank, a clothing store, a good jewelry or gift shop, a pottery/art/fabric gallery. Not. Yet the homes in the beautiful single-family neighborhoods that straddle Central Avenue are filling up with young professionals. As them what businesses they would like to walk to.

Anonymous said...

Replying to poster referring to "lower end of restaurant scale", check facts on We have many eateries with +90 ratings. Examples are An Hoa, Boudreau, Cafe Central, Linares,Foskoskies,Partheon, Lulus and many more.

Rick said...

So let me see if I can restate the problem...

Those of us who are "english speaking" and want to lounge in "fern bars" enjoy being able to say we love the idea of living in the international corridor, if only we could pick and choose when we had to deal with living the international corridor.

Not being one of those people, I had to look up "fern bar"

"Fern bar is a slang term for an upscale or preppy (yuppie) bar or tavern usually decorated with ferns or other "fussy" plants, as well as such decor as fake Tiffany lamps."

Anonymous said...

The Central Avenue corridor already has a coffe shop. "Nova's Bakery" has a lovely selection that will make the most discerning coffee connoisseur smile. Where could you else find traditional blends to those hard to find ones in Charlotte?

I know Starbucks is great, but not at the level of Nova. Also, the pastries are scrumptious and the bread is freshly baked. For some Starbucks is a sign that a neighbrhood has fully been gentrified. An another thing "Pura Vida", Teresa's shop, also sells coffe and the like.

Devil's Dictionary said...

I'm aware of many ethnic restaurants that do a good job with sanitation. But if you look at restaurants that score below 90 you find such establishments
statistically over-represented - and that's particularly true of the small independents that would likely make up the "International Corridor."

And this whole thing isn't being for the benefit of "international" businesses, but is just another lifestyle subsidy for the yuppies. The idea seems to be that the Uptown and Plaza-Midwood gentry will take the streetcar to the international corridor, drop a few bucks, high-tail it out, and then sit around their lofts congratulating themselves on their edgy sophistication.

Anonymous said...

Um Hello, take a look at STARBUCKS on WILKINSON -- It FAILED and now it is CLOSING!

Anonymous said...

"Diversity" works against east Charlotte in this city -- when it's the very thing that can attract the "creative class."

You should have heard my conversation with the Harris Teeter marketing director when they announced they were closing the Eastland store. It's pretty clear there is a carefully worded but real assumption among many retailers that there isn't money here to be spent and there are no middle and upper-middle-class Europeans -- maybe because of how the Central Ave "corridor" looks and the belief that this area is ONLY for the international immigrants.

Like critics of the "international corridor" designation, I wonder why I have to drive to Dilworth or Cotswold or Southpark to get a $3 cup of coffee/latte/frappucino (I don't care who makes it), or send a UPS package or get some of the specialized Kinkos services. What we have for mailing packages or printing anything is the tiny Office Depot at the corner of Independence and Sharon Amity. My neighbor went to Eastland last week hoping to do just a little Christmas shopping and found "there wasn't a single store that sells something you or I would buy."

The "diversity" that attracts some of us to this area also turns off some Charlotte leaders or business investors who don't drive OFF Central Ave or Independence to see some of our beautiful neighborhoods and know the people who live in them.

Just because we don't live in mcmansions and drive Hummers doesn't mean we don't want to buy nice things that are only at SouthPark .... OR by internet. Some like me take my business TOTALLY elsewhere via computer(including for Christmas)because I don't have time to drive that far to shop. Surely THAT isn't good for the city.

ALSO -- If this is to be the international corridor, don't we Scotch Irish Italian Norwegian descendants get included somewhere in that mix? Neither my great-grandfather nor my husband's grandmother spoke English when they arrived. Doesn't that make US international too -- even if our eyes are hazel and hair is dirty blonde? How long ago did our ancestors have to arrive to make us NON-immigrants?

I doubt there are many who can trace their roots back to the Mayflower -- or to the ORIGINAL inhabitants of this continent.
So if this is to be the International Corridor, is someone looking at making a place for ALL of us whose ancestors came here looking for a better life?

And what is this need to make everything look like Birkdale? In highly desirable cities like Seattle and Portland, storefronts that look like the old strip centers on Central are booming town centers with beautiful things to buy. Houses in the named run-down-looking neighborhoods around them are NOT cheap. Surely there is something we in Charlotte can learn there!

Anonymous said...

There are a least three Starbucks within a mile of one another in the SouthPark area. I think one is closing - thank God! We’ve been decadently frappuccinoed to death in this part of the city. Now if we can just get rid of the plethora of massage parlors, nail-clipping joints, tanning salons, cell-phone stores and all the other useless money sponges that my generation somehow managed to do without. Do people really spend good money to get a tan or their fingernails trimmed?

I'd rather have a good old-fashioned neighborhood bar with a pinball machine in one corner, a pool table in another, and one of those big old jars of pickled eggs on the counter. Give me a local brew on tap, please.

As Ogden Nash would say, “Starbuck’s candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”