Home City Local coffee market stirs with new Starbucks, students express opinions

Local coffee market stirs with new Starbucks, students express opinions

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Stand-alone Starbucks location opened summer of 2018 on W. Union St. in Athens, Ohio. Photo by Nate Doughty

Students follow national business trends by rebelling against new Union Street Starbucks, sticking to local coffee market

Keep it local’ — it’s a mantra drilled into the hearts and minds of Athenians, seasonal or not. But this summer, Athens welcomed a new player to the economic ballpark: Starbucks.

Its opponents: Donkey Coffee and Espresso, Court Street Coffee, Brenen’s Coffee Cafe, and Fluff Bakery & Catering.

“Both local and chain businesses seem to fare well in our community as there are many local and chain stores in our top commercial areas,” Michelle Oestrike, Athens Area Chamber president, said. “I think our small local businesses do a great job keeping themselves unique and appealing to a clientele looking for specialty items.”

Despite existing Starbucks vendors scattered throughout Athens — including kiosks in Baker University Center and the E. State Street Kroger — a full-fledged corporate coffee establishment is a new, unfamiliar competitor in Athens.

“I do see the addition of another shop on Court Street impacting their business,” Oestrike said. “Incoming Ohio University students are already very familiar with the Starbucks brand upon arriving in Athens and could therefore miss out on our tried and true local coffee houses and go with a more familiar brand instead.”

Senior marketing major Isiah Truesdale was concerned about the health of local competitors when he tweeted shortly after construction started on W. Union Street, where The New Political reported in February that a standalone Starbucks location would be located; its doors opened August 17.

Twitter chimed with students’ and businesses’ expressed support and dissent for the chain’s expansion into Athens. Tweets generated hundreds of likes — one reaching over 500 likes and 100 retweets.

“I feel like it’s a great thing that large corps like Starbucks are still investing into small towns like Athens, but I wish it weren’t at the expense of the already established businesses here already,” Truesdale said. “It’s nice to have options with extra study space and new jobs are always welcome, I just hope Athens and local business still prosper as they have prior.”  

While Truesdale sees the chain as a hindrance, senior chemistry major Emily Stark doesn’t anticipate the collapse of the local coffee market.

“I know lots of people are concerned about Starbucks opening for fear of customers going there instead of local coffee businesses,” she said. “Personally, I think local coffee shops have nothing to fear, for if you know of Donkey’s hundreds of adoring fans, you know they wouldn’t betray them by going to a big chain coffee establishment.”

National trends show a rising preference for local establishments as younger consumers are abandoning chains.

While big business is on the decline, optimism among small business owners is at an 11-year high, according to Wells Fargo and Gallup’s 2018 Small Business Index. The index, which measures perceptions of over 600 small businesses’ financial situations, rose five points from 2017. The “future expectations” score, which measures how businesses will fare in 12 months, reached 65 points — the highest reading since December 2006.

Additionally, Yelp reviews for independent restaurants averaged higher scores than fast-food chains, and since 2012, that gap has been increasing, according to Yelp’s 2018 Local Economic Outlook. In the last five years, the ratings for chains have decreased 16 percent; independent restaurants increased 7 percent in the same window.

Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland’s statistics align with this curve, according to Yelp’s Local Economic Outlook.

As big business is bottoming, optimism among small business owners is at an 11 year high, according to Wells Fargo and Gallup’s 2018 Small Business Index. The index, which measures perceptions of over 600 small businesses’ financial situations, rose five points from 2017. The “future expectations” score, which measures how businesses will fare in 12 months, reached 65 points — the highest reading since December 2006.

Athens is no exception.

Oestrike said the 2007 opening of Chipotle has not pulled Burrito Buggy from the streets of Athens. She added that, despite Domino’s and Pizza Hut’s existence, Avalanche Pizza is not out of business.

Local coffee shops, she said, should follow the same trend.

Debbie Fulks, the owner of Court Street Coffee, welcomes the new jobs and will “continue to serve the same delicious coffee.” While the two may share a block and similar drink options, Court Street offers community, Fulks said.

“Besides offering jobs and keeping the community caffeinated, local coffee shops are able to work with other local businesses in the community,” she said. “This allows us to keep our shop local, and share the community ideals of the ‘30 Mile Meal’ in a way that the national chain wouldn’t be able to offer.”

Oestrike’s message to seasonal and yearly Athenians alike: “support the businesses that support you.”

“Shopping local keeps dollars in our local economy, gives Athens character, keeps our community prosperous and unique, and enhances our entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.

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