Starbucks, Walgreens, and the Difference Between Community and Corporate PR — Updated

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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112 Responses

  1. Will Truman says:

    The reasons I see for Starbucks success are reasons different from the reason you see Starbucks success. I’m not saying that they don’t benefit from a positive reputation, but I suspect that it has more to do with the fact that it’s a “third place” that is a reliably comfortable place to spend significant amounts of time. McDonald’s could be that, but isn’t. No matter what Walgreens does, it’s a place where the term for being there too long is called “loitering” so there’s never going to be a real connection with the place.

    Are the people who work at the kiosk paid as well as those who work at conventional Starbucks location? Does it matter if they are? I doubt it, because that’s not the central thing. The sense of community and comfort with Starbucks comes from being comfortable there, which comes from Starbucks being a place that does a fair job of making you feel comfortable there.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think what you are describing *is* part of the feeling of being part of a community.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        And to be clear, I’m not saying that people got o Starbucks because they pay people more. I’m saying that the reason Starbucks *feels* like a different experience than, say, McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts, is that the fact that they clearly BELIVE in their corporate aphorisms is something customers pick up on.

        I mean, I could probably sit all day in a D’Donuts, but would I ever feel welcome the way I feel right now — even if the manager told me I was free to hang out ant type away? I doubt it.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I think a lot of it comes down to industry. McDonald’s offers cheap and tasty food. I don’t think there is that much percentage in getting people to stick around. A coffee place is difference. The good ones offer community because they have to in order to justify their prices and get people to buy more than the bare minimum.

        As an aside, I got out of the habit of going to Starbucks of the one area they really screwed up. Their competitors offered free WiFi before they did. Hell, Seattle’s Best did and they were owned by Starbucks. But that’s the exception. For the most part, Starbucks recognized early on that it’s in their best interest for the customer to feel at home. That’s a model more applicable to $4 coffee than it is $2 burgers, where uncomfortable garish yellow and red seats are just fine.Report

      • dhex in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        there’s a lot of HHI sorting going on there, too. posh folk don’t do dunkin’ donuts, even nice ones that do have community stuff going on. (the local non-yacht owning seniors around here love the dunkin’ donuts, despite it having the single worst dunkin’ donuts coffee i’ve ever tasted)Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I question what you say about Dunkin Donuts. I know plenty of former East Coasters and upper middle class types who yearn for a Dunkin Donuts and DD coffee in California.Report

      • greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Krispy Kreme has some of the same “cachet” as DD. It is a much loved treat that imprints upon people when they are young. So when they are older they see them as a wondrous thing as opposed to just a basic gooey donut. Nothing wrong with a gooey donut in general but some people have a strong attachment.Report

      • dhex in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “I question what you say about Dunkin Donuts. I know plenty of former East Coasters and upper middle class types who yearn for a Dunkin Donuts and DD coffee in California.”

        don’t confuse craving with overall behavior. when dd starts doing pourovers, that might indicate a shift.

        they’re also wildly different environments, as tod points out above.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

      No matter what Walgreens does, it’s a place where the term for being there too long is called “loitering” so there’s never going to be a real connection with the place.

      Says you! I’m posting this blog comment from my comfy seat on the floor of aisle eigReport

      • Will Truman in reply to Glyph says:

        Actually, after I wrote this I remembered that there was a supply store in Arapaho where I loved to hang out. They had a special area with some seats and a table. It’s hard to describe, but that was a very welcoming place in a way that the nearby competitors weren’t (though the latter kept better hours!).Report

      • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Sorry, I had to move for a cleanup.Report

    • zic in reply to Will Truman says:

      Most grocery-store kiosks and many hotels that offer Starbucks coffee are vending the stuff, they are not Starbucks, do not have Starbucks training, and pay employees per their own company policiy, not Starbucks policy.

      To my mind, this was the biggest mistake Starbucks made; a lot of crappy service reflected on their brand.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Walgreens is carpet bombing Anchorage with new stores. Which is fine i guess except we really don’t one every 2 miles. I’ve been to the closest Walgreens once, they didn’t have Moleskin, thanks Walgreens. I have no idea how i would react to be told to Live Well. I might say Live Long and Prosper or just shuffle out slightly creeped out.
    Starbucks: I’ve been there three times, once for a very yummy piece of cake in an airport and twice in Spain. We were searching for a quick lunch place in Sevilla and my wife couldn’t defeat my logical “look…sandwich…there food” argument. But they actually were really friendly in there. That does seem rather impressive to have, apparently, such universally good customer service.

    But more to the point. The tendency of liberals to turn certain companies into the boogyman is a PITA. Its’ mostly stupid and unhelpful, reeking more of tribalisms. Sort of on the other hand, Americans love brands and company allegiances so i’m not sure how liberals are all that much different. Tying ego/self-definition to brands is the ultimate capitalist tool. It’s great that Starbucks is a good corporate citizen. It really is. If i liked coffee i might even go there. But i think the liberal argument is that good corporate citizens are good but don’t replace government nor can they be trusted to stay good citizens if it impacts there bottom line.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto says:

    I think part of it definitely has to be the type of company that’s being operated. Coffee shops in particularly are supposed to be community locations. What seemed to have been a problem for Starbucks was when they went too far in being ubiquitous and couldn’t keep up in supplying their shops with quality barristas and managers. At that point they started getting their lunch eaten by the smaller chains like Caribou, and they basically had to consolidate to bring some of that back.Report

  4. Patrick says:

    Whether or not you want to be their customer, they seem to be counter-intuitive, living proof of both groups’ seemingly conflicting ideals: that you can create a positive corporate environment without government intervention, and that you can make sure that people earn a living wage with benefits that allow upward mobility and still be wildly successful.


  5. Jaybird says:

    There is an aesthetic component to so much of this. Remember when John Mackey wrote that one editorial? There were a handful of attempted boycotts against Whole Foods that followed but they all died out because of the aesthetic of Whole Foods subsumed the bad feelings generated by the editorial.

    Starbucks has a similar aesthetic.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

      On its face, Whole Foods actually seems like a great example of the sort of place that gives off a community vibe against competitors that don’t.Report

      • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        Whole Foods actively fights the community vibe. that’s why they have a meat department.Report

      • Michael M. in reply to Will Truman says:

        The local Whole Foods does a good job of paying attention and at least seeming to be a good community member. One thing that helps is store managers have some degree of autonomy in what they do. For example, each store gets to pick the three nonprofits that customers can donate their bag credit to. When the neighborhood indie nonprofit movie theater was having a fundraising drive to fix up its marquee, the neighborhood Whole Foods had them as one of the options. Also, they regularly feature the neighborhood senior center as one of the options. It makes Whole Foods seem hyper-local.

        The other thing Whole Foods does pretty well is offering regional food and regional product across a variety of product lines. Some other grocery chains do a reasonable job with that also, but others don’t. When I stop it at the local Trader Joe’s, I might as well be in Portland ME instead of Portland OR for all the variation there is in what’s for sale.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

        Yeah, we have a “Colorado Springs!” section in one of the aisles. It’s mostly salsa (whadyagonnado?) but I like picking up one of the jars and saying “I know the guy who made this”. It *FEELS* different than, say, Target.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto says:

    Also as a side note:
    Have you looked at how McDonald’s operates in different countries? For example the European versions of McDonalds have a distinctly different vibe than the ones in the US: much more conducive to sitting and staying at them for a while. That’s basically how McDonalds went from a non-entity in France to basically taking over their food industry. They pushed for an experience that was more in line with French expectations of dining out. is a great capsule of how they worked.

    A fair amount of crappy experiences in the US are down to US consumer preferences.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      This is a good point. We Americans conceived of ourselves as a people on the move and on the make since forever. Its part of our self-conception and one reason why many Americans closely associated with the train in the 19th century and the car and airplane in the 20th century. Contrasting our fast-paced and industrious nature with slothful Europeans is a long established trope in American fiction. We like in and out businesses because it reflects our self-conception of us.Report

  7. LeeEsq says:

    Will is right. Some types of businesses are better suited for forming communties than others. Starbucks is good at community making because its a cafe. People are supposed to linger at a cafe and enjoy their coffee while eating a pastry, talking, or reading. Part of the genius of Starbucks was that the decided to sell the atmosphere of a European cafe as a product in addition to coffee and related drinks. The commerical establishments that are best at community formation are the ones where you linger for a bit like gyms, dance studios, cafes, bars, and restaurants.

    Walgreens is horrible at being part of a community because its based on an in and out version of retailing. Most people really wouldn’t want to linger that much in Walgreens either. Most retail establishments are not going to be used as community spaces with the exceptions of comic or hobby shops, classic department stores, and malls.Report

  8. greginak says:

    Acutally i’m not sure about this “they seem to be counter-intuitive, living proof of both groups’ seemingly conflicting ideals: that you can create a positive corporate environment without government intervention, and that you can make sure that people earn a living wage with benefits that allow upward mobility and still be wildly successful.”

    I’m guessing the government intervention part is aimed at liberals but i’m really seeing how either group really is bugged by these ideas. I don’t see how either group think either of these things are counter intuitive. Liberals aren’t trying to make corporate enviro’s happy and shiny with regulations. They are trying to stop dumping of crap in the water, or gender based pay disparities or uni health care. And i think conservatives like the idea of jobs that provide a living wage with upward mobility.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    Tod, I’m in agreement with everything you say about Starbucks. But you misrepresent my post.

    You say,
    in his post on employee/employer power, James notes that turnover is quite high at the fast food establishments he frequents, and posits this is likely a sign of upward mobility.

    But what I actually said was,
    Now I’m not saying these employees are moving up to higher paying jobs, just that mobility within that lower wage category is probably a lot easier than a lot of people think.

    I also didn’t say there was high turnover at the Tim Horton’s I frequent. I noted that I could recognize the employees by voice in the drivethrough, and that’s because most of them had been there for a while. It’s just recently there’s been a noticeable turnover. I couldn’t honestly say anything about their general turnover rate compared to any other fastfood place, although I did stumble across this employee rating website, which is interesting (but since Tim Horton’s is franchised, I wouldn’t extrapolate from those comments to the one in my town).Report

  10. Roger says:

    I see two corporations trying different strategies and tactics in different businesses with different levels of success and failure.*That’s all.

    Btw, I always saw Starbucks real success as being the company that figured out how to sell overpriced fattening hot chocolate malts to America in the morning. The rest was spin.Report

  11. Saul Degraw says:

    What’s wrong with Stumptown? Are we going to need to make you hand in your Portlandia card? 🙂

    I would say it would be very hard for a drug store to be a Starbucks or the Starbucks of the Drug Store world because of the nature of the industry. People just want to get in and out of drug stores as quickly as humanly possible. The Wal Greens near work is very good at this. Starbucks and like coffeeshops can be real hangout places where you stop in every day, get to know the staff and your neighbors, etc. Sometimes do work, meetings, dates, etc. No one is ever going to go to Walgreens on a date unless they are doing some kind of Drugstore Cowboy thing.

    All this being said, Starbucks does work very hard at creating a sense of community or being part of the neighborhood even in very commercial sections of town or some place as large as Manhattan.

    FWIW, I usually dislike Starbucks because I don’t like their coffee. You can get much better coffee at Four Barrell, Blue Bottle, Sight Glass, and many other local cafes/businesses in SF.Report

    • Road Scholar in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Actually, drug stores used to very much be hangouts. The locally-owned, non-chain drugstore in our downtown still has the counter and soda fountain. The drug store was one of the teen hangouts in those old Elvis or Patty Duke movies.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Far out, Daddy-O.

        (Sounds cool, actually!)Report

      • veronica d in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Right. There are a few hipster-hell hangouts in Cambridge that try to recreate this, although maybe kinda crossed with the diner vibe.

        Anyway, such places can be fun. Plus tattoos out the wazoo!Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Glyph, drug stores were hangouts in the United States since the 1880s at latest. The barber shop also used to be a big hangout.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Road Scholar says:

        I know. I was just giving RS a hard time (both for being old enough to remember such things, and for apparently living in Pleasantville) while simultaneously wishing a few more such places survived near me.

        There’s an old-school diner fairly close, but the food last time I went was barely average. It does good business just on the nostalgia factor and as greasy hangover food.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Well, @glyph , the teens-hanging-out-at-the-soda-fountain thing was before my time, at least as a teenager. I hung out in places you could get high generally. Living out in the boonies offered many such locales.

        And the one at our local drugstore is retained mostly for decor. The soda fountain itself is just decorative but you can have a cup of coffee and maybe a doughnut or something and shoot the shit with a friend.

        Pleasantville? Nah. Way too many tweakers and Tea Party clowns for that label to stick. And I realize that sounds like an odd combination but that’s modern rural America.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Road Scholar says:


        Counterpoint: I have never seen one of those.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Logan, Utah, as well as being in the single most beautiful location in the U.S., also has a downtown drugstore with a real-for-sure working soda fountain. But it’s a combination college and tourist town, and that’s probably what’s necessary to have one of those anymore.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Road Scholar says:


        I imagine that much more booze is served at the hipster versions than the originals.Report

      • The oldest continuously operating business in my neighborhood in is a drug store with a soda fountain. There is a Rite-Aid right across the street.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Road Scholar says:

        James, you misspelled Boulder, Colorado.Report

      • Kim in reply to Road Scholar says:

        Pittsburgh has a few functional soda fountain places.Report

  12. I’m probably in a small minority here, but I like Starbucks coffee. It’s not my favorite of the favorites, but I like it pretty good.

    And I agree with James, you misinterpreted his post. James wasn’t talking about upward mobility but something more like “lateral mobility.”Report

    • veronica d in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      I like Starbucks well enough, and when I’m traveling I’ll often end up there.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      + another on the coffee.

      I make my own drip coffee & I have my neighborhood favorites for espresso, but I think Starbuck’s lattes & mochas (frappu-anything, ick, gross) are completely drinkable. I like their espresso on ice, or iced coffee at the locations with a Clover.Report

      • @michael-drew

        I admit I’m not a big connoisseur when it comes to coffee (and my daily routine is to drink one cup of very cheap instant coffee in the morning, so I usually get coffee-store coffee only once a week or so), and I usually can’t tell much of a difference between coffees, although I do like what I like. I do like lattes, too, and in my view, Starbucks’ are as good as any.

        I used to really like the “frappu” drinks, but yeah, now I can’t stand them. There’s just something weird (and even gross) about them and I don’t even know why I used to like them.Report

  13. Kazzy says:

    “No one goes to Starbucks for the coffee, which — let’s be honest — is passable at best. People go there because in a world where everyone is increasingly plugged-in and walled off, it offers a sense of connection to others.”

    I have to disagree. Maybe this is an east coast/west coast (or PNW) thing, but how you describe Starbucks is not how I see Starbucks here. No one has ever struck up a conversation with me. And we have drive-thru Starbucks, which is clearly aimed at people who just want the coffee and nothing else. Zazzy — the mighty introvert who has never met a random conversation with a stranger she didn’t abhor — goes to Starbucks because she likes the caramel frappalattes or whatever. Hell, she’ll drive past the local Dunkin Donuts to go to the Starbucks in the Target which is decidedly unStarbucksian, at least from a cultural standpoint.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:


      When you write about the East, I get the feeling you’re writing about another country. And I remember the time I was in Boston, looking out out of my hotel window at 2 a.m. watching two cabs 1/2 a block apart driving down the street both honking and thinking, “what the hell.” I rarely felt anymore disoriented when I was in Damascus (although Dubai….)

      I’m not trying to smack talk the Northeast. It’s just that I’m thoroughly midwestern, and after over a decade in CA and OR also pretty deeply left coastal. But the South–for all its wonderful hospitality–and the East/NE, utterly baffle me. And I remember a friend from grad school, from NYC, who found the rest of the country just as baffling.

      And I remember an old friend who’d been to Europe once, but in the U.S. had never been off the West Coast because, “America’s all the same.” No, no, it’s not. I wonder sometimes if the whole thing just hangs together out of a combination of inertia and flag worship.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to James Hanley says:

        I may be a special case but I think you can add family/friend connections and personal histories to your list of adhesives. For instance I have family ties to California, Washington, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont, Iowa, and Michigan. I’ve also lived in Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana, and Connecticut. Both lists of course are in addition to Kansas.

        Where I am a bit unusual, naturally, is having a workplace that’s effectively the entire U.S. with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii. Perhaps the fact that a fairly normal day sees me setting foot in anywhere from two to four different states colors my views on local vs. national governance.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:


        I started to read this book:

        It was a bit too history-based for me, but this article sums it up nicely:

        I don’t know enough about the country as a whole, but it nails the northeast pretty well. And it supports your theory that we aren’t really all living in the same country.

        What bothers me about outside perceptions of the east coast/north east — the NY Metro area in particular — is that we are rude. That really isn’t the case. The lack of community in the Starbucks around here isn’t because people are mean or rude; I think it is rooted in something else. We’re fast paced here. I learned recently that I walk at about 4 miles per hour… while pushing a baby stroller. The average person is in the 2-3 MPH range. And I’m not even the fastest person around. We don’t have time for idle chit chat. We don’t make small talk. When people start up a conversation with me about the weather, I want to scream. But when we do connect, we connect rather intensely. Yesterday, I was at a Buffalo Wild Wings in the mall for the USMNT game (not because I love malls or BWW, but because it was the closest place to Zazzy’s work and she wanted to meet me when she got off and miss as little of the game as possible). The place was crowded and I had several unused stools at my table. A gentleman asked if he could sit and I said sure. We didn’t talk beyond that for the entire first half. At half time, he turned and asked me about Mayo (who I was holding). We then had a conversation about our sons, mine 15-months, his 23. He talked to me about his son’s career arc and his hopes for him and his mild frustration that he prefers cars to soccer and he hopes Owen likes soccer, etc, etc, etc. It was a very nice conversation. At the end of the game, we bid adieu.

        I’d prefer interactions like that to small talk while waiting in line for a fake coffee drink any day.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        Excellent point.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        I wonder sometimes if the whole thing just hangs together out of a combination of inertia and flag worship.

        I am nowhere near as well-travelled as RS, obviously, but this feels weirdly…cynical to me?

        When I traveled cross-country, I admit to disappointment that instead of (or, in addition to) the hoped-for small-town main streets/drugstores/local flavor/color, you could always find the Wal-Mart/McD’s/JiffyLube/Starbucks/InsertNationalChain there too. It did give a depressing ‘sameness’ to things.

        (And yet – when I was in dire need of a tire/tent stakes/etc. outside of “normal” small-town business hours, thank God for Wal-Mart!)

        But in addition to what RS said, I think Americans DO feel a kinship, a shared history, largely via a pop-culture osmotic process (which is carried, of course, via many of the same channels as those chains). I can meet someone from a far-off part of the U.S. and feel like large parts of our experience roughly line up in parallel, or are at least comprehensible to each other (I mean, obviously there are extremes of wealth and poverty, or of extreme urban and extreme rural, that are more alien; but I feel like this is the exception more than the norm). And this is largely due to music we both know. Television. Movies. Those things that tell us our shared stories and myths.

        And cheeseburgers.

        I don’t think of myself as especially jingoistic or flag-worshipping, but for the most part I think this country hangs together surprisingly well, as large and contradictory and nuts as it is.Report

      • dhex in reply to James Hanley says:

        there are vast cultural differences even between neighboring regions. outside of giving up good restaurants, one of the biggest adjustments between nyc and rural mid-atlantic (atlantia?) is the (amorphous) concept of “work ethic”.

        to me, so many people here are fantastically lazy. like, it’s mindblowing that you’d call a vendor for something and they call you three weeks later with a quote – THREE WEEKS LATER – and go “what’s your hurry?” because you went with another company. dude was genuinely surprised.

        they’re even late to get paid e.g. i have an electrican (who was good but went awol for eight days to go fishing) who hasn’t yet asked to get paid for work he did six weeks ago.

        i recognize this reaction is knee jerk, culturally defined, and that the opposite is also true – to them i’m constantly in a hurry, quite demanding, absolutely unwilling to do things they’d do themselves*, and obsessed with work and money.

        it’s an alternative lifestyle, it is.

        * part of why i needed the electrician in the first place. people confuse capable with competent pretty hard down here when it comes to things that really count, like water and zap zap.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        @dhex – well, I already said ‘extreme urban’ and ‘extreme rural’ might seem a bit more alien to *me* – and *you* went from one extreme, to the other extreme.

        The professor seemed to be questioning how his ‘Midwest’ vs. Kazzy’s ‘East’ can even hold together, which…I mean, sure, there are definitely regional differences, but I really don’t see any kind of serious Balkanization going on at those levels.

        But then again, I’ve pretty much always resided in suburbia, where one neighbor might be a type-A transplanted New Yorker, and the other might be a total redneck – with plenty of visits to both urban areas, and rural ones.

        OH MY GOD – I *AM* A CENTRIST!!!Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        I think it is a combination of duct tape and really complicated shoelace knots that keep us together 🙂

        What is baffling to you about the Northeast?

        There are some Starbucks in the suburbs with drive-bys but in NYC and other areas, they do serve as the cafes and hang-out places that Tod mentioned. I think people in San Francisco are probably more anti-Starbucks than people in NYC. When I lived in Brooklyn, there were lots of cafes where people would hang out and work, etc.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to James Hanley says:


        You know you want to return to Smith Street and Vinny’s 🙂


        I find chains to be very disassociative. I once stepped into a chain book store in SF (in the mall) to pick up a book for someone. While waiting in line for it to get wrapped, I thought that I could step of the mall and be in Kansas City or some such.Report

      • dhex in reply to James Hanley says:

        vinny’s is easily the best red sauce eyetalian joint i’ve ever been to.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley says:

        James, didn’t we have an entire war that established that the United States government does not recognize divorce in the marriage of the states?Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley says:

        What most non-New Yorkers seem to find baffling about New York City is that you don’t need to drive everywhere and most of us get along fine withotu a car. Many of them seem to find the subway and walking entirely novels ways of getting around town.Report

      • Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

        @saul-degraw – if it wasn’t clear in my first comment, yeah, I have quite a bit of ambivalence about chains, and their depressing-uniformity-yet-reliable-ability-to deliver-consistency (flip sides of the same coin, obvs.)

        Also, Starbucks coffee isn’t TERRIBLE, exactly, but it is burned tasting, which is stupid and unnecessary for something so very expensive.

        I personally feel that the burned taste is intentional, that they use it as a signifier for “strong” (which, it is fairly strong also – but you can’t really *taste* caffeine, so they suggest it another way. Like, if you are paying a lot of money for a strong whiskey, you *want* it to burn a little going down – that way you know you are not getting a watered-down product. Helps you justify the cost in your mind, because you know the product is “working”).Report

      • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        to me, so many people here are fantastically lazy. … i recognize this reaction is knee jerk, culturally defined,

        That’s an attention grabbing sentence. And I admit I’m struck exactly the same way when I’m in other regions. But I know lots of urban people who are fantastically lazy as well. And plenty of rural folks who work really hard. Maybe the distinction you’re getting at has more to do with differing conceptions of how market transactions are “supposed” to be conducted? Something like that?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        “The East is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”Report

      • dhex in reply to James Hanley says:


        “That’s an attention grabbing sentence. And I admit I’m struck exactly the same way when I’m in other regions. But I know lots of urban people who are fantastically lazy as well. And plenty of rural folks who work really hard. Maybe the distinction you’re getting at has more to do with differing conceptions of how market transactions are “supposed” to be conducted? Something like that?”


        i toyed with writing something for the work symposium along these lines, but i figured i didn’t have much more than that to say. i mean, i will say that before i started working down here, i’d never heard anyone use the phrase “that’s not in my job description” outside of a joke. what that means outside of my limited experience in two industries, i know not.

        more evenhandedly, i try to see this as a kind of battle between “quality of life” v. “laziness” – two ways to describe the same behavior via two different lenses. many of the people who were born here and stayed or chose to move here did so for quality of life issues – access to the outdoors, slower pace, more property, hunting, fishing, some access to small town life but with the option of living in a rural location away from the hustle and bustle of several stores on the same block, etc.

        some of it is also the lack of competition. people are sort of used to doing one thing for 30 years and then retiring to fish or what have you, at least as an ideal. that’s slowly starting to change, in part because outside of the very wealthy retirees and the two major employers in the area, the entire county is bleeding young people and fantastically poor in parts. as talent imports from other places, like nyc, we have a slow impact on the local culture, along with larger trends in culture and economics, higher education and a few related industries, etc.

        which is part of why we’re (as in the transplants) treated by some similar to how an immune system would treat an invading virus or bacteria. we are the inversion of values, so in many ways i am literally a satanic import to their cultural idyl. i can be sympathetic to a degree, sort of, but i do not have the humility or pervasive compassion to do so fully and wholeheartedly.Report

      • James, didn’t we have an entire war that established that the United States government does not recognize divorce in the marriage of the states?

        Speaking as someone with a secession hobby — go ahead and laugh, I’m used to it — it’s a matter of getting enough people on both sides to agree that a split is in everybody’s best interests. The Civil War demonstrated that a group of states couldn’t leave unilaterally. Although they might have gotten away with it if Jefferson Davis had been able to keep Robert Lee reined in and fighting a defensive war. Keep Sherman bogged down and the 1864 elections might have come out differently, with the North deciding that it just wasn’t worth the blood and treasure.

        This graphic on interstate migration has fascinated me every since someone here (Will?) first linked to it. While I think the designer has some of the regions defined wrongly — Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma as a group is crazy — playing with it leaves me with a strong impression that we can see reasonably well-defined regions in the patterns, with much more intra-regional than inter-regional movement. I keep meaning to get hold of the data and do some serious cluster analysis.

        Relating that to Glyph’s point about the suburbs, at least in my suburb west of Denver the non-locals are much more likely to be from Seattle or San Jose or LA or Salt Lake City than they are to be from a city east of the Missouri.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        didn’t we have an entire war that established that the United States government does not recognize divorce in the marriage of the states

        Well, I for one have always thought that the best way to interpret the Constitution is by shooting those who disagree.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        “The East is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

        Uh, oh. In the U.S., the West has always been the future. Maybe we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James Hanley says:

        If the East is the past and the West is the future, doesn’t that make the Mid-West stuck in time?Report

      • What bothers me about outside perceptions of the east coast/north east — the NY Metro area in particular — is that we are rude.

        While I won’t go that far, I will say that for the 10 years that I lived in that area, every time business travel took me back west of the Mississippi I had a tendency to grossly overtip at restaurants because the staff paid so much more attention to what I wanted/needed than I was used to.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        The Midwest is the present, always. We live in the moment.Report

      • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

        Of course the midwest is always in the present. Airlines have to be flying over someplace at any given moment.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

        Although they might have gotten away with it if Jefferson Davis had been able to keep Robert Lee reined in and fighting a defensive war.

        Or if they’d refrain from starting a war in the first place. But a culture that considers sneaking up on a defenseless man and beating him nearly to death while an armed accomplice warns off anyone who might want to intervene to be the act of an honorable gentleman [1] was far too infatuated with violence for that.

        1. Not a word of exaggeration in any of this.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley The Midwest is the present, always. We live in the moment.

        Just like animals. No episodic memory or vision of the future. Just rootin’ and grubbin’.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        As my friend in Iowa would say, happy as a hog in slop.Report

    • Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

      Starbucks has awesome hot chocolate. Their caramel hot chocolate is consistently among the best I have tasted anywhere. Starbucks also has a secret menu containing things like butterbeer.

  14. zic says:

    @tod-kelly very nice post.

    I think McDonald’s and Starbucks is a better comparison then Walgreens and Starbucks; Walgreens has a lot of expertise in the store, pharmacists, inventory, etc., and has a lot of sunken costs in that inventory; though the corporate attitude toward retail-sales employees is spot on.

    CostCo. is another example of a company that treats its employees well.

    I wonder what the story is for employee advancement, another consideration. Some companies create room for people to move up to store management and corporate jobs; some companies grind employees up and spit them out, helping to harden both the worker and the employer into the disposable labor view of the world.Report

  15. ScarletNumbers says:

    Whenever I need to go to a drug store, and I have a choice between Walgreens and CVS, I always choose Walgreens.

    For Penn & Teller fans, Penn’s ice cream is currently being sold at Walgreens. It is excellent.

    As for Starbucks, the last time I was “there” was when I was meeting someone from this very website. We met at Barnes & Noble, but they have a small area where they sell Starbucks products. Ironically, I ended up getting hot chocolate.Report

  16. aaron david says:

    @tod-kelly I think that you are looking at this from a certain cultural/class/race position, and when you leave that zone it falls apart.
    For example, I do a lot of work in Oakland and I often swing through a McD’s in order to use the restroom. At these locations I see quite a few older African American men, talking, drinking coffee etc. Now, it could be that they are in a Starbucks desert, but more likely they are in the community space that feels comfortable to them, and whose customers will welcome them.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to aaron david says:


      It’s like the barber shop. A black or Hispanic New Yorker could have written this very same post about barber shops. It is why I prefer the Hispanic-owned barber shop in town to the Italian-owned one.Report

    • Kim in reply to aaron david says:

      McD’s functions like a sidewalk cafe does in Europe, at least for some portion of the urban rental community.Report

  17. James Hanley says:

    I may have told this before, but my favorite Starbucks stories seem appropriate. By the University of Oregon, there’s a one block commercial strip on E. 13th St., which was right by my building. Starbucks was at the far end of that block (having replaced a Thai restaurant, grrr). A friend and I went for coffee one day, and I suggested Starbucks for the reason Tod gives, we could sit there a long time–in comfortable chairs, no less–and not be bothered. My friend, though, didn’t want to get Starbucks. He wanted to get coffee somewhere else because he hated Starbucks on the grounds that “there’s no other place to get coffee than Starbucks, they drive every other place out of business.” I pointed out as we walked down the street that we could get coffee at the university bookstore, at the bar across the street from the bookstore, at the bagel shop, or at the commie coffe shop (more on that next), all of which we had to pass before we could even get to Starbucks. But he still insisted that Starbucks was evil because they drove every other place out of business, so there was no other place to get coffee, so he wanted to get coffee somewhere else. I barely knew of Starbucks at the time, so this was my first brush with Starbucks derangement system.

    Another friend always insisted we go to another coffee shop on that street instead of “corporate coffee” (Starbucks), and so I nicknamed the other place commie coffee. It was the anti-Starbucks. Better coffee, but with rickety wooden folding chairs I always suspected came from a church garage sake, tiny little tables too small and wobbly for your laptop. They served their coffee piping hot in handleless glasses–it was a challenge to get them to your table without dropping them to avoid burning your fingers. And if you sat there very long they’d start badgering you to buy more or leave. Worst coffee shop business model ever. But I think my friend liked the suffering as evidence he hadn’t gone corporate. I liked to chide him that his preferences were why Marxism would always lose to capitalism.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to James Hanley says:

      I have a related reaction to this post, but going in a different direction. I think that people go to Starbucks for the same reason they go to Olive Garden.

      Olive Garden is in the Northern Italian cuisine category, but they aren’t a very good example of it. They used to be solidly average (which is to say, mediocre) but don’t manage even that anymore. The thing is, no large chain restaurant can be anything better than mediocre, because the logic of a large chain prioritizes consistency over quality. They want the customer to have the same experience in every store. The food is designed so that it won’t be screwed up by the guys in the kitchen. This also eliminates the possibility of an inspired chef doing wonderful things.

      My local town is hardly a culinary nirvana. It is in a semi-rural, semi-exurban, solidly Republican county. Yet it has three Northern Italian restaurants: a locally owned independent, one of a small (less than half a dozen) locally owned chain, and an Olive Garden. All three have comparable prices. The food is far better at the other two restaurants than at the Olive Garden. I can walk right into the other two at any time. There is a line out the door of the Olive Garden every evening of the week. This is the power of marketing, pure and simple.

      This discussion of Starbucks is the same thing. My town has a local independent coffee house, with comfortable couches, tables and chairs for those prefer them, live music weekend evenings, a shelf of books, chess sets for those who favor that mode of lingering, etc. Oh, and the coffee is better than Starbucks, with comparable pricing. Guess whether this coffee house or the local Starbucks has the longer line?

      We Americans love our national chains. We love them so much that we are willing to settle paying for overprice, substandard product so long as we can do it in a national chain. Why is this? It is tempting to invoke the word “sheeple,” but this doesn’t really answer the question. Part of it is that national chains offer predictability. While my town’s indie coffee house is a good one, there also are those commie coffee houses which are awful. If I am on the road and just want food to refuel, I will choose a national chain restaurant because I know the food won’t be terrible, and even had I stumbled onto a wonderful local place, I am just passing through: the payoff would be limited, and not worth the risk. But in my own town, once I find that wonderful local place I can return over and over. The payoff is much higher. But most people don’t seem to think this way.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:


        Except when you go to cities like SF, Portland, Brooklyn, etc and then national chains are usually mocked. Some local chains like Thai Osha or Sushi Raw are acceptable. Our local coffee chains are acceptable to great (Blue Bottle, Sight Glass, Four Barrell, Philz) but this is why cities might get blasted as not being real ‘merica sometimes 🙂Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I’m going to split the difference between Saul and Richard. Chain restaurants and hotels rose in prominence as more and more Americans began to take family vacations by car. From what I understand, finding a decent place to sleep for a night or grab a meal used to be quite an adventure. Chain restaurants and hotels might not have offered the highest quality of cuisine and accomodation but you could be fairly certain that the food would be passable and the accomadations not seedy. For a family with kids on vacation, a weary business traveller, or a single woman this could be a God send. The local places never entirely disappeared but did better in places where people could take time and risk to experiment more, cities, because you had lots of single people or married people on date night looking for something exciting.Report

      • From what I understand, finding a decent place to sleep for a night or grab a meal used to be quite an adventure.

        This is totally off-topic, but have you seen the commercial with the family staying in the murder hotel (tagline: “ would have mentioned the finger.”)? That thing kills me.

        “That’s unsettling.”Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        There are plenty of Starbucks in New York City that seem to be doing booming business and most of the customers are probably locals.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Richard Hershberger says:


        That’s exactly how McDonalds became huge. They didn’t figure out how to make a better burger, but figured out how to have consistency, so that wherever you happen to be, if you’re looking at Bub’s Local Burger Joint vs. a McDonalds, you know what you’re going to get at the McDonalds, whereas Bub’s could be much better, or it could give you food poisoning.

        Of course, for whatever reason, Americans traditionally do seem rather risk averse in their food, although I think that’s changed considerably in my lifetime.Report

      • Yet it has three Northern Italian restaurants: a locally owned independent, one of a small (less than half a dozen) locally owned chain, and an Olive Garden. All three have comparable prices. The food is far better at the other two restaurants than at the Olive Garden. I can walk right into the other two at any time. There is a line out the door of the Olive Garden every evening of the week. This is the power of marketing, pure and simple.

        I don’t want to deny the power of marketing and consistency when it comes to the situation @richard-hershberger describes, but maybe those people just like Olive Garden better. Maybe they like that food better than the supposedly more “authentic” kind.

        Also, I kind of like chains because if I go to a small, locally owned, family run restaurant, it starts to be a social event where the owner comes over, sits down, and talks to us. There’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I–and I imagine other customers–just like the anonymity of the chain. Of course, being in a small town, maybe that advantage doesn’t accrue to Richard’s Olive Garden.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        @ Gabriel Conroy

        Note that I didn’t use the word “authentic.” I used “better.” Olive Garden food simply is poorly executed. I have heard the claim that they used to put a lot of money into training their kitchen staff, but have pulled back from that and rely on pre-cooked food and microwave ovens. I have no personal knowledge whether this is true, but I it does seem to me that the chain has gone downhill. I used to think it pretty decently executed northern Italian cuisine. The past few years, whenever I have been there (usually when people give me gift cards) I have found the food disappointing.

        As for oppressively friendly atmosphere, I’ll grant that can be an issue. But the charm of local businesses is that they aren’t all the same. It is perfectly reasonable to eschew the oppressively friendly restaurant when you aren’t in the mood, but it simply isn’t true that all local businesses are like that.

        The thing is, with local businesses you have to actually set foot in the door to find out what it is like, and you might not like it. This legitimately is an up-front outlay. The outlay is lower for chains, because once you set foot in one, you have learned about all of them. It’s just that I think that it is well worthwhile put some effort into seeking excellence rather than passively settling for mediocrity.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I think that it is well worthwhile put some effort into seeking excellence rather than passively settling for mediocrity.

        I do, too, but some people are more risk averse than others. If the food was free, they’d probably be more willing to at least take a taste, but when you have to drop some cash–and if you’re taking a family of 4 or 5 out to eat, it can get pretty pricy pretty quickly.

        I had to train myself to think “It’s just one meal in a long life of meals–if it isn’t good, so what? But if it is good, I’ve discovered something I can enjoy over and over.”

        I think a lot of this is how a person is raised. When I was a kid we rarely went out because we couldn’t afford to, and when we did it was nearly always after-church lunch at either Ponderosa Steakhouse or MCL Cafeteria at the mall–very blandly safe dependable food. And when mom made something I didn’t like to eat, she’d make me sit at the table for literally hours until I either gave up and choked it down or wore her down with my complaining. That doesn’t teach a person to experiment. I vividly remember outright refusing to even try watermelon, because I was afraid I’d hate it and would be expected to finish the big slice that was offered me. That’s crazy.

        With our kids, my wife and I make them try a taste of everything, just so they can figure out if they like it or not, but never make them eat anything they don’t like the taste of, and we try different cuisines and non-chain restaurants with them. And they eagerly discuss which things they like and which they don’t as we’re eating and sharing. As teens, they’re ahead of where I was when I was in my late 20s, and sometimes they even demand I try something I’m skeptical of.

        This has been a public service announcement to all parents here who have youngsters.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I’d never eat at a chain restaurant but I’m with Gabriel on finding the sometimes intensely personal service at more local restaurants annoying. The wait staff always seems to have the knack to interrupt and ask how things are going in the middle of conversations. At the same time, if your a frequent customer at a local restaurant they will on occassion through you a significant gift. I was once eating with my parents at a restaurant my dad frequents for business lunches. We ordered a dessert to share and the restaurant gave us every dessert on the menu for free.

        Like James said, lots of people aren’t adventurous eaters for various reasons. They might have kids and kids can be notoriously picky eaters. They might also have various dietary needs and prefer to stick with what they know because of that. Finally it might simply be in their culture. For than a few people see food as fuel rather than as a potential artform or a great pleasure of life. This sort of thinking is very present in a lot of Northern European countries, which traditionally haven’t put that much artistry in their cuisine compared to the French, Italians, Chinese, or other gastronomically-inclined people.Report

      • @richard-hershberger

        You’re right, you didn’t say “authentic.” To tell the truth, I haven’t been to Olive Garden in more than 10 years, and although I remember liking it, it’s quite possible it’s deteriorated in quality or it was always bad and I just didn’t know better.


        The reference to the hyperpersonal service is a dig at one of my wife’s and my favorite restaurants. It’s a great place, high-quality food even for those here with the more refined tastes. (And they seem to treat their workers well, although as I said to Michael M. elsewhere in this thread, I hesitate before saying that outright.) It’s more expensive than Olive Garden or other chains, but it’s not prohibitively more expensive. And the owner and/or his wife really do come over to talk and sometimes sit down with us. That’s largely because my S.O. used to eat there several times a month for quite a long time before we met, so they’re friends. But I’m very introverted and have a lot of personal hangups about food (it’s taken me a long time to be comfortable eating in front of people I don’t know), so I usually feel awkward.Report

      • @leeesq

        At the same time, if your a frequent customer at a local restaurant they will on occassion through you a significant gift

        At the restaurant I just mentioned, we always get dessert and sometimes other things for free, and while I’m very grateful for it it (and we leave huge tips to make up for everything we didn’t buy), it makes me feel a little awkward. It shouldn’t, but it does. It’s a good problem to have in life, though. I just feel weird about it.

        It reminds me a little bit of an older lady who once patronized a fast food restaurant I worked at. She had bought coffee, and brought the empty cup to have it refilled. She expected to pay for the refill, but I kept trying to tell her that the refills were free and included in the price. And she kept saying she wasn’t the type of person “to take something for nothing.” So finally I just refilled the cup, accepted the quarter she gave me, and rung it up as a “miscellaneous” charge on the register.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

      They served their coffee piping hot in handleless glasses–it was a challenge to get them to your table without dropping them to avoid burning your fingers.

      Stupid Easterners! (As Vlad Taltos would say.)Report

  18. Michael M. says:

    I experience cognitive dissonance when I read people saying how well Starbucks treats their employees because I have not met one who has positive things to say about the experience. Over the past few years, I’ve talked to at least half-a-dozen people who used to work for Starbucks, and they all complain about what a crap job it was. Not one of them got health care because the corporation deliberately works it scheduling so that as many employees as possible don’t work the minimum hours to get benefits.

    Tod, how many people do you know who sing the praises of working for Starbucks? It’s entirely possible that the random sample I’ve encountered is not representative, but if Starbucks really is such a great place to work, I’d think at some point I’d meet someone who’d say that.Report

    • That’s a good point @michael-m . I try to make it a rule to be skeptical whenever someone claims that such-and-such a business “treats its employees well” when that someone doesn’t work there, and I hesitate to make the claim myself, although I sometimes catch myself doing so.

      I do think Tod’s point stands from a PR perspective, however. Regardless of how poorly Starbucks actually treats its workers, it does a good job of convincing people it treats them well.Report

  19. Michael M. says:

    I’m shocked no one has posted this yet:


  20. Damon says:

    Starbucks: I used to buy the coffee when they only had mail order. Didn’t like the coffee then, still don’t. I don’t like the roast. And, since coffee for me is a caffeine delivery system, I’m not going to pay 5 bucks for something that’s mostly not coffee. I’ve also never wanted to hang out at one of them. I’ve only done it a few times as “first dates”, which generated my perception of Starbucks and their customers as “overpriced coffee purchased by status conscious elitist jerks.” I get more feeling of “community”, such that it is, from Barns and Noble, or was it the other big bookstore? Can’t recall the name.
    Everything that you said Tod about how much money they give away, how much volunteer time, etc. just validates to me the price of the product is WAY overpriced.

    I don’t shop there, but Tod’s description should like I wouldn’t want to. I don’t need someone telling me to “live well” and it just smacks of tone deaf PR.Report

  21. Saul Degraw says:


    I must concur with Richard. The food at Olive Garden is so bland as to be tasteless to me.

    I’ve never had a restaurant owner come and it at my table. Like Lee, I’ve discovered perks for being a loyal customer though at locally owned businesses.Report

  22. Peter says:

    Panera Bread is something akin to Starbucks, in the sense that people are free to hang out for extended periods or even conduct small business meetings while ordering only a few things. It’s one of the few other restaurants where it’s common to see people working on their computers.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Peter says:

      Panera is Clancy’s go-to place when she needs to get away.Report

    • Michael M. in reply to Peter says:

      Panera has a small program whereby they converted a few locations into “Panera Cares,” which they operate as a “pay what you want/can” restaurant. There’s one in my neighborhood. The place is mostly indistinguishable from a regular Panera, except that instead of paying the cashier for your order, you are told what the suggested price of your order is and you put whatever you want into a little box by the register. The cashiers will make change, if you want them too. I think they might have some kind of barter work program as well, but I’m not clear about how it works.

      This particular location originally opened as a regular Panera and converted to Panera Cares a few years ago. There are still people working on their computers, still small business meetings conducted.Report

  23. Vikram Bath says:

    Recognizing that Walgreens isn’t Starbucks, should Walgreens management just punt on ever trying to be the better option? I understand and largely agree with the point that Walgreens will find it difficult to get customers to drive by other pharmacies to go there, but it’s not clear to me that that means they shouldn’t even bother.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      @vikram-bath “should Walgreens management just punt on ever trying to be the better option?”

      No, it absolutely shouldn’t — and if that is what was taken away from my post, then consider it a failure of communication on my part.

      My point is that if you don’t actually believe in a “core value” of your company, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve included it into your mission statement; people will know. Indeed, customers tend to pick up on all of the little things you do and don’t do — things that that are largely shielded from them — far more than they do what you put on a poster, a TV ad, or press releases. They don’t necessarily know what they are picking up on, and almost never stop to ask themselves why they have the reactions they do, but they still have them.

      This doesn’t mean that Walgreens shouldn’t try to change at all. It simply means that if *they* don’t believe they are who they want customers to believe they are, they are never going to get those kind of tribal clients that Starbucks, Apple and others have. (Not that there’s anything wring with that. Most companies don’t.)Report