News flash: Starbucks reports that it will be upping the price of its drinks today by an average of 1 percent in certain regions of the U.S. What!?!?! Now, I gotta’ spend $1.85 for a tall Pike Place?!?!?! C’mon, let’s Occupy Starbucks!
Is this the tipping point? Will this be the day that all coffee-addicted Americans say enough is enough, and tear down the 10,000-plus Starbucks? Can America be transformed into a land of mom-and-pop coffee shops that serve exquisitely roasted, fair-trade coffee for less than a dollar a cup?
No. It will not. I think we all know that. Since the 1990s’ über-proliferation of Starbucks, our culture has gone from being excited about the coffee chain to being disgusted to being repulsed to where we are now: begrudging acceptance. Some of us laugh about how we spend more than $4 for a coffee, others of us grumble about it, and then there are those who refuse to enter Starbucks, and judge the rest of us mercilessly.
I’ve gone through my own love-hate-accept relationship with Starbucks. At first, I adored it. And then, one day, I found myself in an anti-WTO march chanting, “Starbucks sucks!” every time we marched passed a location (which, of course, was often). I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy, so I boycotted Starbucks for a good four or five years.
Alas, my resolve diminished, and I eventually went back to drinking the stuff, for the convenience above all else. And I was shamed for it. For instance, there was the time I was in Colony records, a classic, old-school music store on Broadway in Manhattan, happily perusing the CDs with a Starbucks Americano in my hand, when I marveled in front of a clerk about how I could be expected to purchase a particular CD for $14 when I could get it for $10 on Amazon. He sneered, saying that I had paid the difference for my coffee. He was being a dick. But he was right.
For those of us who have struggled with the notion that the personal is political, Starbucks is yet another bone to chew on. (So is Amazon, for that matter.) Most anti-Starbucks arguments tend to stem from the Yuppieness of it all; people hate how Starbucks has smugly taken over every corner of every neighborhood. And then there are other, more substantive issues, including pressuring Starbucks to use more fair-trade coffee and to have better labor practices.
But more than anything else, there’s the most immediate, selfish argument: people resent having to pay so much for a cup of coffee that is of a quality and convenience that we now expect. And when the price goes up, the old ache flares again.
This new increase, on the face of it, is about market forces. So when the prices of coffee, milk and fuel are expected to go up, as they are, it makes sense that the price of a Starbucks coffee should also go up.
But it’s not all going up; the change is limited to the Northeast and Sunbelt regions, where the price of a tall coffee is going up 10 cents. A regular grande, for instance, is staying the same.
Did I not mention that my Starbucks drink of choice is a grande? I guess that means you won’t find me storming the baristas this week.