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Starbucks plans a new Center City location with no bathrooms or seating (Inquirer)

08 Sep 2022 5:12 PM | Travis Oliver (Administrator)

Starbucks is planning to open a new store in Center City Philadelphia that will be a radically scaled-down facility for the national chain, after it said it was closing another downtown store over the summer, along with 15 other U.S. locations, citing safety concerns for employees.

At less than 1,600 square feet, the planned store at 1709 Chestnut will be for take-out only: it willnot have public seating or a public bathroom, according to the leasing agent involved in the deal.

“Starbucks is always looking for great locations to better meet the needs of our customers, and we are happy to confirm that we will be opening a new Starbucks Pickup store location in Philadelphia,” a company spokesperson said.

Larry Steinberg, a commercial leasing agent who worked with Starbucks on the new store, described the design as a departure from the norm for the Seattle-based chain.

“I’ve done a bunch of Starbucks leases and this is the first one that they are calling their new urban concept,” said Steinberg, senior managing director with Collier’s urban retail division in Philadelphia.

With this new concept “they’re avoiding having to entertain the public, and give them seating and bathrooms,” he said. “Then they don’t have to deal with any of these other issues.”

When Starbucks announced the closure of its location at 10th and Chestnut Streets in July, along with 15 other stores on the West Coast and in Washington, D.C., the company said its baristas were facing safety issues and broader societal challenges that “play out within our stores.”

Staff are“seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities – personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use,” read an open letter signed by Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelsen, senior vice presidents of U.S. operations.

Starbucks, in the July letter, said it would consider adjusting store formats, furniture layouts, and operating hours, and using restroom occupancy sensors to ensure it could continue providing a “safe, welcoming, and kind third place.”

The notion of a “third place,” is meant to evoke a space for human interaction outside the home or the workplace. For decades, Starbucks has traded on this concept, providing public WiFi, abundant tables, bathrooms and, until 2019, print newspapers.

But drug use in bathrooms at Starbucks’ 10th and Chestnut location, and at other businesses nearby, was a problem, the head of the Center City District business group told The Inquirer in July.

“They closed [the 10th and Chestnut location] because they are tired of needles in their bathroom,” said Steinberg.

Starbucks had created an open-bathroom policy after an incident at a Philadelphia store resulted in nationwide headlines and claims of racial discrimination.

In 2018, two Black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested before meeting an acquaintance in a Starbucks location at 18th and Spruce. The two men hadn’t purchased anything as they waited, and a manager called the police. The ensuing scandal resulted in an apology tour and company wide anti-racism training.

The new store model coming to 1709 Chestnut would appear to minimize public interactions overall.

“Their core is to sell you coffee and pastries and that’s it,” said Steinberg, about the new style of location.


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