Confession. This week, for the first time in my life, I walked into a Starbucks, ordered coffee and sat down with a buddy to mess with my balky laptop. Oh sure, I have ordered java from the drive-through and even hoofed inside to fetch some to-go coffee for the Mystery Woman. But this marked the first time to go inside and soak up coffee and ambiance. I was struck by the buzz of friendly conversation that permeated the room. Every table was full. Ditto the comfy stuffed living room chairs. Vente!
Hold that image.
Step back with me through the decades when the coffee shop was nearly all melamine. The coffee shops were then called cafes. The village elders (all male) would gather at the appointed hour and talk about Roosevelt. Or the War. It was unofficial, but each man had an assigned seat. Woe to the stranger who accidentally busted the circle. It was assumed the women had their own clatch and were drinking coffee from their at-home Percolators. The twain did not meet at the morning review.
I remember when I was in the third grade. Hamlin, Texas. The old guys hired me to swat flies at the domino parlor that doubled as a coffee shop/cafe. Paid me a penny a fly. I was doing pretty good for a while until they caught me opening the back screen to let in more flies. Fired me on the spot. But I’m meandering off message.
Return with me to the Starbucks experience.
Starbucks was the first national coffee chain to capitalize on our tribal instincts. We like getting together with our friends. Good coffee, too. The tall cardboard cup was a badge we polished daily in our go-go, care-free days. The price was steep but within reach. But over-expansion and the economy are big hills -- even for a high-stepper. The chain is suffering big lay-offs in the U.S. Time to re-trench.
I half way expected a ghost store when I walked in yesterday. Imagine my surprise at the full house. Another confession: coffee as a salon is a concept feels different today than it did in the back of my early memories. Can’t quite explain it, though.
But I know what I like. And I still prefer the Hamlin experience where the smiling waitress would ask, “can I warm you up, hon?”