Is Starbucks Fooling Seattle Tourists?

Besides seeing the Space Needle, one of the stops most tourists make when visiting Seattle is visiting Pike Place Market. Every coffee drinker knows this where the first Starbucks opened back in 1971. I visit the Pike Place Market frequently and I began noticing an issue in recent months.

In July of 2008, Starbucks announced they would close 600 stores. Despite the economic downturn, they decided to open a new store at the entrance to Pike Place Market. I wondered why Starbucks would open a location so close to the original, especially considering the prior tenant was Seattle’s Best Coffee and they failed. Now I think I understand why, but first let’s look at some photos of the original Starbucks.

This is the original Starbucks. It is located at 1912 Pike Place. NOTE: According to Seattle historian Daniel Jack Chasan, the current “original location” was moved a block south in 1977, which would make the 1912 Pike Place location the 6th Starbucks.

Notice the original Starbucks still uses the original logo in their sign.

Take a look at the sign on the new Starbucks location. Looks a little retro to me. It looked old school or retro to the Seattle Times as well. From the post Starbucks opens rustic-looking coffeehouse near Pike Place Market, doesn’t post prices for most drinks:

Dark wood. Cracked concrete floor. Coffee bean bags as wall coverings. It is cool, like a real community gathering place — caffeinating hole? — and not some yuppie’s living room.

This is the NEW Starbucks at the corner of 1st Ave and Pike St.

What do I see when I pass the NEW Starbucks location? The same behavior I see in front of the original Starbucks. Tourists are having their photos taken in front of the NEW Starbucks at Pike Market with the retro sign. They think it is the original location! They travel to Seattle, make their way to Pike Place Market and see a Starbucks with a funny sign and assume it is the original. Only later in the day will they realize the original is not on Pike Street, it is on Pike Place. Starbucks gets to ring the register twice. Pretty sneaky.

During my first visit to Seattle in May 2007, I made the pilgrimage. I went to the original Starbucks and ordered an espresso. Unlike the vast majority of stores, this location does not use a super-automatic machine. It grinds every drink to order, just like the old days. I had secretly hoped the espresso I would order would take me back to 1995, when I had my first Starbucks espresso. Unfortunately, the quality of espresso in the original Starbucks location today is no better than a typical airport kiosk. My best Starbucks espresso memories are now more a decade old.

Here is a little tip from a local. When you visit Seattle, poke your head in the original location, take a photo and then seek out better coffee. The Starbucks in Seattle are no better or more special than the ones in your home town. Don’t waste your daily caffeine allotment drinking what you can have back home.

Sources:

The real first Starbucks – Article by Seattle historian Daniel Jack Chasan detailing the very early days of Starbucks at Pike Place Market.

Coffee City – Seattle Time blog post which accurately refers to the new location as “rustic”.

Space Needle – Official site.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m not sure if I should be impressed by Starbucks doing something like that, or offended. Either way, I’m taking notes for my trip out that way…which looks like it’s currently scheduled for someday.

  2. que says

    I don’t think it matters because the 1912 Pike Place was not the first location either. All that Starbucks says is “1971 Starbucks opens its first store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market” (http://www.starbucks.com/aboutus/Company_Timeline.pdf) but I understand that this can be misleading to the new 1st & Pike store. It is up to the tourist guides to give the accurate information. The Seattle Coffee Crawl (http://seattlebyfoot.com/) does and anyone who looks up in Wikipedia can see it was on 2000 Western Avenue, but the original building doesn’t exist anymore. And maybe the pilgrimage site for the Starbucks as we know it today should be first Il Giornale store (http://www.deadprogrammer.com/category/facility/il-giornale-store ).
    Like it or not, Starbucks is a symbol of Seattle, and as such I think it deserves a more prominent flagship store than the 1912 Pike Place, so I like the concept of the 1st & Pike.
    I didn’t drink coffee before I moved to Seattle. I started at (and because of) Starbucks, what led me to discover all the wonderful independent coffee shops and roasters around.
    PS: If you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend the book “Sons of the Profits” by William Speidel.

  3. says

    Que -
    Thanks for the history.

    The NEW flagship store is impressive. A nearby business owner told me they dropped $250K in renovations. It does have the Clover machine as well. If this store is the future of *$, then they are moving in the right direction.

  4. Biggs says

    It’s all about rebranding strategy. Seattle’s Best Coffee did not fail, because Starbucks owns Seattle’s Best Coffee. It makes sense for Starbucks to take over that location to relaunch its new image (flagship store) as its one of the busiest street corner (portal-to-the-world) at that location. Starbucks was probably more concerned if they let that prime real estate available, an independant coffee house (i.e. Stumptown, Ritual, etc.) would take that location.
    Regardless of their new store design, Starbucks need to focus and improve on their espresso quality. I started with Starbucks and have ventured on to better coffee houses. They need to rid themselves of the automated machines. I think Starbucks is deliberately fooling the public by saying every coffee is hand-crafted, but its all made from automated machines.

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