I’m old enough to remember the early ’90s when the rise of coffee shops across America—not just Starbucks, but indie cafes as well—was a subject of awe and wonder, worthy of full-fledged newspaper feature articles. It was a sign of the time, pundits said, that the friends in Friends hung out in a coffee shop instead of a bar.
But times change, and now, for the first time since 2011, when the Great Recession came to an end, the number of coffee shops in America is in decline. The research firm Euromonitor International, which monitors such things, anticipates that by the end of 2020, there will be 25,307 coffee shops left in the country pulling in $24.7 billion. These still seem like huge numbers, but that’s 7.3% fewer coffee shops and 12% less revenue than in 2019. (It’s a big country. There are a lot of coffee shops.) This also means more unemployed workers and a loss of business for coffee producers since more premium beans tend to be consumed in cafes than at home.
The researchers also anticipate that the cold weather will cause another drop in business. “Coffee shops that succeed in this new climate will need try to recreate as many of their popular pre-COVID-19 attributes as before while being in line with the new realities of social distancing,” Matthew Barry, a beverages consultant for Euromonitor, told NNY360. “This will include moving many aspects online, where personal engagement is still possible without physical proximity.”
It’s unclear how, in this period of social distancing, coffee shops will be able to use the internet to recreate the experience of spending several hours hanging out someplace that isn’t home or work (the “third place,” as Starbucks called it during my barista training/indoctrination) for the cost of a single cup of coffee. Already several coffee shops I have known and loved have closed their doors forever. The only ones that seem to be benefitting these days are chains like Starbucks, Dunkin’, and McDonald’s, which, even before the pandemic, thrived on takeout business—a trend that’s general throughout the food biz.