Whole Foods: The New Starbucks – I mean McDonalds

Whole Foods in New York City on Houston St.

For the past few years, I’ve noticed the steady decline of local Starbucks franchises which includes 2nd Avenue and 9th street, 3rd Avenue and St. Marks – and the worst of all – the Starbucks on Lafayette and 8th street in New York City’s East Village.

I had always liked the Starbucks “experience” in spite of my friends’ nearly unanimous hatred of the corporate cafe. The coffee was good; I could sit for an hour or two and no one would bother me; and it was relatively clean and bright which provided optimal reading conditions for my favorite literary pursuit – The New York Times.

But, lately it’s difficult to go there for anything other than shelter from a cloudburst.

  • It’s too crowded with tourists. Tourists = cacophony.
  • Everyone (mainly non-customers) loves to use Starbucks for its bathroom – a turn-off since there’s always a line snaking through the tables. (Hey, I’ve been guilty of being part of the snake, too.)
  • And many of the people in the Starbucks on Lafayette appear to live there. Last week, I watched as a guy yelled at another guy (something about “You think you’re special, don’t you?”) and then threw a banana that banked off an interior window. Ker-splat.

This isn’t the cafe life that Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, could have envisioned. Starbucks is no longer part of the neighborhood – it’s more like Penn Station.

And, it’s a sad statement that McDonald’s sees “an opening” by adding a coffee product line to its menu as recently reported by Ad Age’s Emily Bryson York. This isn’t the first time McD’s has mimicked Starbucks. Whenever the golden arches of grease thinks it can take market share from you, it’s time to re-examine the business.

I wonder what a super-sized coffee would look like….

So where to next for this East Village blogger when a cup of coffee is required? The Bean, perhaps? No, too crowded. My guess is Whole Foods on Houston St. and Second Avenue.

Last Sunday, I spent an hour or two with a cuppa, cookie and the Sunday NY Times and was impressed by the sprawling layout and the crowd – people didn’t just come to Whole Foods to eat or drink a cuppa, they came to meet in a location that was decent and wouldn’t be bothered by a swirl of transient humanity.

All I want from my cafe: a little space for reading and sipping and let me think that that is what you want me to do there.


January 19th, 2008

Entry Filed under: East Village, New York City


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