‘Save Our Starbucks’ Petition Gains Steam, But the Company Doesn’t Look Like It’s Budging

By Michael McDowell

Did you ever think you would live to hear Upper West Siders cry “Save Our Starbucks?”

As recently as 2017, East Villagers rallied in opposition to the opening of a Starbucks on St. Marks Place. But the East Village the Upper West Side is not.

On a stretch of Columbus Ave besieged by vacant storefronts—the former Isabella’s space is still awaiting its new tenant—several locals have started a petition to save the Starbucks at 338 Columbus Avenue, at 76th Street, which is currently scheduled to close on January 31. As of writing, the petition had more than 350 signatures — up from 25 the morning that West Side Rag broke the news of the closure.

The authors decided to petition Starbucks after employees told them of the impending closure earlier this month.

Why?

“This place, for many years, has been a legitimate neighborhood resource that fulfills all kinds of functions that are ancillary to the purveying of coffee,” said Teddy Cohn, an Upper West Side resident and one of the authors of the petition.

“This Starbucks actually happens to showcase the values and ethos that the brand pays lip service to, and presumes to espouse…it’s an unusual showcase for their brand, and it’s in their self-interest to keep it open. That’s my argument to them, in part.”

The authors argue that the coffee shop performs a number of essential community services.

Michael Schertz, an Upper West Side native and entrepreneur who co-authored the petition, described 338 Columbus as a “welcoming cultural melting pot” for customers of all kinds—a safe place for kids who attend P.S. 334 across the street who may have two working parents, for older patrons, and for homeless customers, some of whom help ensure the store is kept tidy.

In fact, Schertz said, a homeless person who frequented the location several years ago recently stopped by to thank regular customers and staff. That person not only found a job, but also an apartment, and said the warmth and support at the Starbucks at 338 Columbus played no small part in these major life changes.

“It’s just a good vibe place. Look, none of us here are naive. We know the way things work, but we don’t want to go down quietly. We want [Starbucks] to know that they did create something special here—perhaps incidentally—and they’re choosing to kill it,” Cohn added.

What about Starbucks’ reputation as a symbol of gentrification and cultural homogenization in New York City?

“I’m excruciatingly aware of the irony of my position,” Cohn said. “It’s an interesting contradiction of the reality of this place — that Starbucks, which I always saw as the enemy, provides such a unique and inclusive community space. It’s a predicament for somebody like me.”

The community value of a Starbucks in part illuminates the drastic change Manhattan has experienced.

“Starbucks stores have always been, for me, a cultural node of each neighborhood [in New York],” said Ethan Schneider, a regular and another petition author. “But this is my favorite in the entire city, by far.”

Schertz and Cohn say they are aware of the national implications a positive story could have for Starbucks, as former CEO Howard Schultz reportedly considers a run at the presidency in 2020, and the brand continues to recover from a controversial incident in Philadelphia in 2018.

So why is Starbucks folding the store?

Cohn said he spoke to a Starbucks district manager, who told him that the store is underperforming relative to others in the neighborhood, relative to rent. But one employee who did not want to be named said the closure is the result of a recent and dramatic rent increase. The building is owned by Greystone Management. A Greystone representative declined to comment for this story.

If Starbucks can’t afford Upper West Side rent, who can?

New York has long considered—and failed to implement—forms of commercial rent control. But calls for such action typically mount after the closure of a beloved local business or a mom-and-pop neighborhood fixture—not a Starbucks.

Schertz intimated that the store recently experienced a turnaround in profitability. According to Schertz, a store manager he calls the ‘Gregg Popovich of Starbucks’—a reference to the legendary coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, widely regarded as one of the greats—turned 338 Columbus Ave into the best performing store in the district, and did so within a year.

That manager has since been moved to the Starbucks at 70th Street and Broadway.

Employees said that although they do not believe their jobs to be at risk following the closure, they do support the petition, and petition cards were to be found on counters throughout the store. The employees will be reassigned to other Starbucks locations throughout the city, a change that isn’t without a certain melancholy.

“This is the best team I’ve ever worked with,” an employee said. “And that’s in the entire city,” this person added. “The customers here, it’s different.”

A Starbucks spokesperson acknowledged that while the 338 Columbus location is “special,” the decision to close the store seems to be final. “We remain committed to continuing to serve the community, offering a warm and welcoming environment for people to connect. Customers in the area will be able to visit our nearby store on 73rd & Columbus (a 3-minute walk from the store at 338 Columbus Avenue),” she added.

Cohn and Schneider said that if the store does close, as they expect, they will move their operations to other coffee shops nearby.

“When people leave the neighborhood, they still look back on this as a special promised land that they’ve never found replicated in Starbucks’ elsewhere. It’s not just anecdotal, and it’s not just laziness or self-interest. Look at the petition. So why are we doing this? I guess because an occasional good truth should be spoken, come what may,” Cohn concluded.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 24 comments | permalink
    1. J bycher says:

      Please safe our STARBUCKS

    2. Patricia Gilman says:

      How does one sign the petition – I use that Starbucks on Sundays when I am at the Grand Bazaar in the schoolyard

    3. Jan says:

      This Manager did not do a good job.
      Allowing a line to form to outside the bldg. down the
      sidewalk to use the bathroom was inexcusable.
      Screaming children, etc. The promoters of the Flea Mkt
      event that caused this huge crowd of people
      should have provided same. Oh. No. Let the incompetent
      Mgr. take in all those folks while WE paying customers sat
      in disbelief and discomfort . One case in point.
      So, maybe it’s time for them to go. Perhaps even they are
      experiencing increased rent. If the dollar profits do not
      warrant the keeping of this Starbucks, close they will.
      Fond farewell. We will miss them. Way too many non paying
      computer patrons. Again, the Mgr could have MANAGED
      this!!

      • There are no ‘non paying customers’ at this or any other Starbucks except for the very very few homeless people, most of whom are asked to leave. What there ARE are the customers who make Starbucks what it is; a local community. Yup they stay longer than the allotted 15 minutes required to drink a cup of coffee and do homework or build websites or write blogs and that is what makes Starbucks an important part of the community. Funny enough is it usually the people who want to sit down for an hour with friends and drink their 15 minute coffee who complain about the people who sit down for two hours instead. I’ve been coming her for over a decade and spent probably $20k and have not a drop of guilt for utilizing the space the way Starbucks encourages. In fact I take great pride in helping to create a warm and welcoming space, in the friendships I started and the friends I supported. It isn’t the people who utilize Starbucks as it was envisioned who need to find another place; it is the people who want a ‘drink your coffee and get out’ cafe who should go find one. ‘Mom and Pop’ Del Capo isn’t a good bet however. Why? Because they too have people who ‘stay all day’. And welcome them. Go figure.

    4. Kenneth says:

      OMG – SBUX does not care nor should they. This is a business decision. Get over it. It’s not hard to find a cup of coffee on the UWS.

    5. anonnny says:

      amazing even that there have been 2 of them within 3 blocks of each other there!

    6. Sherman says:

      Starbucks is a for profit corporation. It is not a charity or philanthropy. As such, it’s CEO Howard Schultz’s primary objective is to enhance the value of its stock for its shareholders (including yours truly).

      Starbucks is not operating stores to provide some kind of community service. If this particular store is underperforming – for whatever reason – then unfortunately it needs to close.

      There seems to be a Starbucks every couple of blocks on the UWS. Maybe the problem with this store is simply oversuppy in the neighborhood.

      In any case there are plenty of other Starbucks within walking distance for people to congregate in.

    7. Leon says:

      Rather than circulating petitions and doing interviews, perhaps they could spend more money at this Starbucks. If it were more profitable, its odds of staying open would be a lot greater. Not that complicated.

      That being said, I guarantee that this spot sits empty for months. If Starbucks can’t afford it, then who can? One would think that with the pending departure of Starbucks, the owner would be very actively marketing the space and would have a likely successor tenant in mind. But I’m sure they don’t. Because that would make too much sense.

    8. greg says:

      hahaha people now crying about a starbucks leaving??!

      Things have come full circle

    9. IHF says:

      Of course the store is underperforming. Those “ancillary functions” don’t generate any revenue directly and not enough indirectly either. They should really change their business model and give away the coffee and charge for time spent at their tables.

    10. AC57 says:

      They have too many stores in this neighborhood. I’m sure they can afford rent here, but they’re cannibalizing the stores by having so many so close. Take one look at Google Maps, and you will see exactly what I mean. Including a couple on the borders of the neighborhood, and around Columbia University, there are about 25 Starbucks… really? I’m surprised more stores haven’t closed down. On top of that, the ubiquitousness of Starbucks kills any viable chance for competition. There are 2 dozen Starbucks, but only 8 Dunkin Donuts and many other small coffee chains barely stand a chance.

      This is coming from a non-coffee drinker so… take that as you will.

    11. Evan Bando says:

      In the article, Teddy Cohn says: “This Starbucks actually happens to showcase the values and ethos that the brand pays lip service to, and presumes to espouse…” Eddie, your Starbucks is like so many other Starbucks, ethos and all. Why malign the Starbucks company out one side of your mouth and then claim you and the neighborhood deserve the credit for what that Starbucks allows you and your neighbors to do in it? Starbucks, like them or not, still, after all these years, gives people the common space (with heat in the winter and a/c in the summer) in which to congregate and converse or just work alone for the price of a coffee. It’s not just 76th and Columbus. The big, welcoming Starbuck’s left 67th and Columbus a few years ago. It was a loss but it was not unique.

    12. Oh, common, let it die in peace. If you guys like it all that much offer to buy it.
      I just hope that a nice entreprenour take over the space and start a real nice coffee shop.

    13. B.B. says:

      Why is the WSR like a dog and his bone with this story?

      Both this publication and supporters of the so called “petition to save Starbucks” have their answer: “Cohn said he spoke to a Starbucks district manager, who told him that the store is underperforming relative to others in the neighborhood, relative to rent. But one employee who did not want to be named said the closure is the result of a recent and dramatic rent increase. The building is owned by Greystone Management. A Greystone representative declined to comment for this story.”

      End of discussion.

      At the end of the day retail always comes down to numbers. Either a place produces and or exceeds target sales per square foot, or it doesn’t. Everything else including the whole “community benefit” is icing on the cake.

      It isn’t as if there aren’t other SB locations within several blocks of this particular store.

    14. Zanarkand says:

      There is literally a Starbucks two blocks away in either direction. I wish more passion was around to save the stores and restaurants that really give our neighborhood character.

    15. Scott says:

      My hunch is this is 97% about the free bathroom Starbucks provides.

    16. robert says:

      “Starbucks stores have always been, for me, a cultural node of each neighborhood” Oh I have to laugh at all the UWS nimby-ism about how terrible it is to have chains putting the little mom & pop coffee shops out of biz on the UWS which was the gospel being espoused by our self appointed community leaders over the years. But wait, hold on now, is Schultz, the progressive darling and the co that he is still heavily involved are not going to keep open a money losing store. Oh that’s right its coming out of their pocket, not Joe taxpayer so of course they are closing an unprofitable store. That’s just the way the real world works. Not everybody runs and/or works for a non profit that survives solely on gov largesse

    17. Happy Ex-UWS'r says:

      Such a typical UWS “The Sky is Falling” response to the store closing. As someone said, this has come full circle as people raise hell when a new Starbucks opened up in the area. OMG, why couldn’t it be a mom and pop coffee shop, damn chain stores, it’s just like the mall, yada, yada, yada…
      Starbucks like every successful retailer (and that’s what they are) looks at a metric known as occupancy cost – basically rent divided by sales. If it’s above a threshold the store stays open, below it closes. In some cases, there are allowances made for Prime or Showplace type locations (5th Ave., SoHo), but this is not one of those spots.
      The CEO is ultimately responsible to the shareholders to deliver financial results. Carrying underperforming stores is not part of that.
      Maybe the petition signers can get the new Socialist Darling AOC or DeBlasio to open up a chain of coffee shops to serve all these public needs. Your tax dollars could fund it. But for me as a shareholder of Starbucks, I’m happy they close underperforming stores. that’s what I signed up for.

    18. Too many says:

      Too many Starbucks this one should be closed to !

    19. UWS Zaddy says:

      White privilege … Walk your ass up the street and go to the next Starbucks

      • Evan Bando says:

        This is exactly the kind of comment that should never make it to the comments list. Whoever screens these comments needs a lesson in manners and common sense. The UWS is the brunt of many jokes. But, please, let’s not add another reason to laugh at UWS residents and their crude, stereotypical behavior. White privilege? Black victimhood? Is that really what the Starbucks article is about?

    20. XStarbucks says:

      Be gone with Starbucks… We have Billy’s Bakery here on the UWS!