Outside a Starbucks community store in Harlem
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

For decades now, a new Starbucks popping up means one thing: Well, there goes the neighborhood. The ubiquitous Seattle-based chain is nearly synonymous with gentrification in urban areas. Now one of the largest capitalist enterprises of all time is trying to undo that reputation with an increased push for “community stores.” Starbucks plans to open 100 of them by 2025.

Starbucks community stores are stores in lower-income areas, urban or rural, that hire local staff and provide space for community events. The program actually began in 2016 in Ferguson, Missouri, two years after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. Since then, another 13 have opened across the country. Starbucks says the program has created 300 jobs so far. In this next push, the chain will work with the nonprofit United Way to develop job training and mentoring programs in each store. Prices at community stores are pretty much on par with other locations, because, according to Starbucks VP John Kelly, “This is not a charity.” Heard and understood, John.


It’s not a totally unreasonable concept. Coffee shops are designed to be places where local community members gather, catch up, work, take meetings. I’ve met up with friends to work on projects at Starbucks countless times—I mean, free WiFi! So with this program, Starbucks appears to be taking a realistic look at what lower-income communities need and assessing how to best make its stores a local hub.

Could the mermaid logo become synonymous with gathering and empowerment in underserved areas? Or is it just good PR? Unclear. But that’s what Starbucks is telling us they’d like to see.


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