Last Hopes for Local Starbucks Get Papered-Over; Fans Feel ‘Weird’ and ‘Sombre’

By Michael McDowell

“It’s the last day. We should have something to say about that,” said Ethan Schneider, one of the authors of a petition to save the Starbucks at 338 Columbus Avenue, on the corner of 76th Street.

“I definitely have that ‘nostalgia for the present’ kind of feeling,” Teddy Cohn, another author, supplied, in a midday nod to postmodernism.

“It’s not the last day that will be weird, it’s the first day after that will be weird—we’ll probably keep walking into the door like robots,” Michael Schertz added.

“That will be weird, that will be really weird,” Cohn agreed. “The three of us will probably act like we don’t know each other—or maybe we really won’t recognize each other outside of this context. It will be like a complete alien disfiguration.”

“Maybe we’ll all change our appearances, too,” Schneider considered.

Jokes aside, Cohn, Schertz, and Schneider had petitioned Starbucks, as well as former CEO Howard Schultz—who may run for president in 2020—in a Hail Mary effort to convince the company to keep the store at Columbus and 76th Street open. This store was one worth saving, the three argued—a “legitimate neighborhood resource.”

Although their petition received well over 500 signatures, Starbucks remained unmoved. The store would close that day, January 31.

Despite the impending closure, the mood inside was somewhat festive. The authors planned to treat the employees to pizza, and from behind the counter, complimentary hot chocolate made the rounds.

Employees will be reassigned to locations throughout the city, a few on the Upper West Side, some downtown, others to the Bronx. “We are sombre,” an employee said. “I’ll miss everyone, but we are keeping our jobs.”

What do employees think of Schultz’s prospective campaign for president?

“I like it. I feel he’s grown tremendously as a person, and he’d definitely be much better than what we have now,” one said.

“I’m still sad about Hillary Clinton,” another sighed.

“It’s a shockingly benighted, vanity-fueled absurd enterprise,” Cohn assessed. “It’s a disastrous venture. I have nothing against him ad hominem, or personally, I think he’s perfectly fine, whatever it means to be fiscally conservative, socially progressive—I think that’s a rich person’s fantasy—but the effects will be disastrous downstream, he’ll end up being like a Vichy collaborationist or a Ralph Nader collaborationist with the interests of Trump. Inadvertently perhaps. He’s probably a fairly honorable fellow on his own; that’s not the issue.”

Closer to home, Schertz expressed concern over the growing number of empty storefronts on Columbus Avenue.

“In six months or a year [after the closure], it’s going to be just like this: empty,” he predicted.

“That’s a real issue, whether this adds to the ghost town, the ghost-towniness of Columbus Avenue,” Cohn nodded.

A number of vacant storefronts pepper this piece of Columbus, a heavily trafficked strip within sight of the American Museum of Natural History.

But on the same block as the Starbucks-not-long-for-this-world, Upper West Siders in search of a latte could try Da Capo, which, in addition to coffee, has brought CBD—or Cannabidiol—to the neighborhood.

Schneider plans to relocate to a Starbucks at 2140 Broadway, at 75th Street.

Cohn and Schertz remain undecided.

“At the end of the day, it’s been a nice ride: I’ve made some really good friends, I’ve had a place to work, I’ve met some really nice baristas, so I can only say ‘thank you,’” Schertz concluded.

“Thank you, next!” Cohn chimed in, referring to Ariana Grande’s recent hit. “I like that song.”

So was this really a special Starbucks?

A former employee, Frank, stopped by that day. “He’s one of the people that made this place a home,” Schertz noted.

Frank, following a medical absence, had requested a transfer to a store closer to home, in Parkchester. Cohn had visited him in the hospital.

“It was a total surprise when you walked in, you know that? My mom and aunt are looking at this guy, like, who is this?”

“It was some love,” Cohn said.

“Absolutely,” Frank concurred.

On February 1, butcher paper covered the windows, and the store’s letters had been removed.

Photos by Michael McDowell.

FOOD, NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 38 comments | permalink
    1. RWC says:

      Come on People! This whole commotion and petitioning are misplaced.
      Ridiculous that this store ever opened. Two other Starbucks less than 4 blocks apart.

      • SP says:

        Not to mention a great little coffee shop, Da Cappo, just a few doors down. Da Cappo is actually clean and enjoyable to sit in where that Starbucks pretty disgusting.

    2. Elisabeth Anderson says:

      Wow! At least I won’t go there by mistake, for my coffee.

    3. Juan says:

      So no one offered to start a fundraiser for Starbucks like they did for the bookstore?

      I am sorry for the people who liked to shop there and really hope that it won’t be yet another long term empty storefront but I am a strong believer in supply and demand. Starbucks is a business, not a charity, and if they felt it didn’t make sense to keep the store there, that is their right. And the owners of the building are allowed to charge what they want.

      If people want things to change, they need to do so on a macro level, not be so reactive when stores are days from closing. I am a moderate Democrat who has mixed feelings about government interference but I think that a long-term vacancy tax is a good idea and will incent store landlords to think twice before forcing out existing businesses. Lots of empty storefronts are not good for anyone.

      • Michael says:

        The owners can charge what they want because of the ridiculous tax laws that allow them to write it off as a loss indefinitely regardless of what they charge. This is why Columbus Avenue from 79th to 74th is almost a ghost town. Almost 10 huge Store Front real estate spaces stay empty and will be and have been for years. This brings nothing to the neighborhood it brings no community it brings vast stretches of empty unused spaces that bring no value to anybody who lives here that contribute nothing to the tax base and represents simply a write-off of rent that’s not sustainable and not market based.

        • Happy Ex-UWS'r says:

          Your characterization of the tax code is simply WRONG! There is nothing that allows a landlord to “write off” vacant store rent as a loss, nothing at all in the tax code like that. Do some research, educate yourself instead of rehashing this moronic line that everyone uses.

        • Sherman says:

          @ Michael-

          I’m a CPA and your comments about the tax code are 100% incorrect and make no sense.

          Stop writing garbage about something you are clearly ignorant about.


    4. Stephen says:

      Sad days indeed . Another victim of local greed .

    5. Brie Hoffman says:

      Sad, the Upper West Side is a ghost town and yet you still have $2,500 rents for studio apartments go figure!

    6. Wijmlet says:

      much ado

    7. Wijmlet says:

      It’s a Starbucks, for g’s sake

    8. David says:

      Everybody needs to grow up. This is a chain store closing a location, not a mom and pop that was a local institution, like Westsider Books. I don’t understand the whole Starbucks mystique, but if customers can’t move their butts to another location, maybe they need to shell out some cash for wi-fi at home and buy a Keurig.

      Did West Side Rag spend as much space, and did readers equally bemoan the closing of Big Nick or Westside Market – both on the block between West 76th and 77th?

      • david says:

        To answer your question. No.

      • EricaC says:

        Yes – more, actually.

        • David says:

          Perhaps, but there’s a big difference between a Big Nick (or Westside Market, which was really more important to the neighborhood), and a monolith like Starbucks.

          Agreed ?

          • EricaC says:

            Not really. As much as I like to complain about Starbucks, they reintroduced, in some areas, a function that did not exist in many of the neighborhoods I live in. So, I’m kind of glad they exist. I don’t quite know why there is such an uproar about this one if there is another one so close, but I’m not a snob about Starbucks generally.

    9. Tim says:

      I think this might be the epitome of First World problems! Lol

    10. Still Growin' Up says:

      Re: “…We should have something to say about that,” said … one of the authors of a petition to save the Starbucks….”

      O’m’gosh…hate to sound like Mitt Romney in that remark that helped him lose the 2012 vote, but YOU ARE JUST ANOTHER PATRON;
      1. you are NOT entitled to corporate decision-making; do NO MORE than pay the required price for your coffee and maybe, perhaps, if you’re feeling generous,leave a tip for the ‘barista’;
      3. and you MAY be one of those who sit for hours with a laptop, occupying a scarce seat and thus convincing would-be customers that there is no room for them so why bother to enter.

      Yes, in this era of 29-year-old rock-star “Democratic Socialists” in Congress and college students flocking to courses about how teh-wibbly awfully-awful is our capitalist society, such remarks are to be expected.

      To paraphrase Sir Winston: ‘Anyone under 30 who is not a liberal has no heart, and anyone over thirty who still is has no brains.’

    11. Lady Di says:

      let’s get a grip people – certainly more worthwhile issues both within the community and on a larger scale. By the way, perhaps the editor would like to fix the spelling of”somber”?

      • Leon says:

        But after the store closed there were a lot of sombre hombres!

        WSR – I love you, but if there is going to be an extended vigil for every shop that closes on the UWS, you are very quickly going to lose your readership and advertisers. I greatly appreciate you notifying us about stores closing, but these pieces are getting tiresome, particularly about a national chain. Stick to your strengths.

        • Michael says:

          What should bother you is that a national chain cannot afford to stay open in that location. The cannot afford to stay open because the landlord can charge any when they want and then write-off the loss of the non market based rent for eternity. This is why there are so many closed store Fronts from 79th street to 74th street that have been and will remain closed for years. How do you expect mom and pop stores to survive if billion dollar corporations cannot.

          • young man! says:

            Absolutely incorrect Michael.
            You cannot write off potential rent that you did not collect.
            Just as if you could be earning $200k a year making widgets but you choose to make $30k a year as a social worker you cannot write off the $170k as a loss on your taxes.
            Works the same way for corporations.

            Please stop repeating your made up tax laws.

    12. Happy Ex-UWS'r says:

      “he’ll end up being like a Vichy collaborationist ”
      I think Mr. Cohn needs to refresh his knowledge of history a bit.
      This over the top rhetoric is killing this country. Why can’t people try to make a point without using nonsensical hyperbole.
      Yeah we get it, you will miss this vaunted, hallowed Starbucks. Get on with your pathetic life!

      • Teddy Cohn says:

        Amused by your armchair vitriol. And your smug allegation of my “pathetic-ness.” I am well aware of the history of the French occupation..and actually seldom engage in the type of hyperbole you claim to be damaging American political discourse. Certainly, this was a bit of an extreme statement (taken somewhat out of context). But let’s be clear: a presidential campaign that inadvertently facilitates 4 more years of Trump’s systematic war on truth, decency and accountability (not to mention the free press, rule of law and all institutions that might constrain his imperial ambitions) really IS a true societal disaster. I can assure you that lamenting the loss of a Starbucks (of all things) was an unlikely and ambivalent act on my part. And in no way substitutes for (or diminishes) my other more righteous and “meaningful” activist engagements. But the place happened to be an outlier oddity –that actually manifested the inclusive ethos the brand presumes to espouse. And, that, distaste for the homogenization and franchising of NYC notwithstanding, is worth affirming. Here’s a thought for your big righteous brain: Maybe the impulse to cluelessly condemn other citizens as leading “pathetic” lives is what is really killing the country.

    13. david says:

      Sad. Have to walk another block. Hope it’s an indication of schultz’s run.

    14. UWS Craig says:

      Corporations should be required to look at the impact of their decisions on not just the bottom line – but also on ALL stakeholders – the employees, the customers, and especially the community.
      Shame on you, Howard Schultz, we see right through you and you will NEVER be elected president.

    15. Mark says:

      It’s a Starbucks, people. A Starbucks.

      Good grief – you should probably examine the quality of your friendships if you really perceive this will turn them into “complete alien disfiguration”.

      What drivel!

    16. Ben David says:

      If only Upper West Siders cared about the rising crime rates, homelessness, and increased gang violence…as much as they do about a Starbucks closing.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        so-called Rising crime rates:

        24th precinct: major crimes down year to date by 17.6% from same period last year; all major categories down, except murder (1 this year, 0 last year).

        20th Precinct: major crimes down a spectacular 35.5% from same period last year; every category down or even (O murders in both years, for example), except burglary, 7 this year, 5 last year.

        many Props to DI Malin, 20th Precinct! Proving that community policing works.

        Ben David and some others apparently are more concerned about USING crime to promote a right wing agenda (“the city is falling apart under the liberal De Blasio”) than actually looking at facts. Facts are stubborn things.

    17. b0rn'nr41sedUWS says:

      I can’t believe Upper West Siders are heartbroken over the closing of a STARBUCKS. I thought we were all complaining about our neighborhood turning into a giant strip mall? Just goes to show y’all will never be happy.

    18. Peter says:

      “Schneider plans to relocate to a Starbucks at 2140 Broadway, at 75th Street.”

      It’s like satire, but it’s not, which makes it even funnier.

    19. B flat says:

      Back when SBUX was looking to expand into Manhattan the company would target areas that already had thriving, established coffee shops. They would open as close to the target as possible, across the street,whatever. The difference is sbux obviously is a chain, a corporation the business model and priorities unlike any mom and pop. I’m sympathetic to the patrons losing a convivial place.

    20. For your information says:

      Starbucks is closing more than 25 locations in Manhattan/Brooklyn due to cut backs.

    21. B.B. says:

      Starbucks has a problem that is growing; consumption of coffee is up, but many prefer to get their caffeine fix at home, work or other places rather than cafes, coffee houses, etc.

      Starbucks has noticed this trend and began moving towards “drinks”, snacks, packaged meals and other offerings. But even there you have competition from Joe the Juice, Irving Farm, etc…

      Long story short when SB first burst onto the NYC scene (and other areas of USA outside of Seattle), they were in competition with local small businesses. Now they are fighting other chains.

      Oh and there is the fact SB coffees aren’t that great for a start. If had to drink Starbucks coffee would buy a bag (on sale) at local store/24 or wherever and make it at home. For the cost of one “drink” at SB can have easily a week or more coffee at home.