Seattle Residents Shun Starbucks

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) — Some people in Starbucks' hometown have grown cool toward the chain that made coffee hot in Seattle.

Annoyed by the everywhere-you-look ubiquity of Starbucks and the corporate uniformity of its coffee shops, people are walking a few more blocks or cutting down side streets to get their lattes from smaller, independent places with more personality and a more neighborhood feel.

``I go to Starbucks when it's the only thing around and I have to have a cup of coffee,'' said John Davis, a 35-year-old regular at Cafe Habitat on Capitol Hill. ``It's annoying, and I'm embarrassed.''

Since Starbucks' humble start at Pike's Place Market in 1971, the green and white Starbucks sign has become nearly as recognizable as McDonald's golden arches. There are more than 3,000 Starbuckses worldwide, 144 in the greater Seattle area and 78 in Seattle alone.

Many complain that Starbucks coffeehouses look exactly alike, with the same color schemes, selling the same knickknacks and serving the same coffee.

The backlash against Starbucks — or, for that matter, other businesses that started out small and quaint, only to become corporate behemoths — isn't new. But in a city like Seattle, where many residents can't open their eyes without their morning espresso, sentiment against Starbucks has been a golden opportunity for the independent coffee house.

``I look for a place a little funkier that's local,'' said Derek Baylor, a 28-year-old theater carpenter sitting outside Caffe Ladro with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. ``I like to support the little guy.''

Starbucks isn't exactly suffering in Seattle. Customers still line up for its coffee drinks and spend a lot of time lounging on its chairs and sofas.

Over 34 weeks ending in May, Starbucks reported that net revenue increased 32 percent to $1.4 billion, compared with the same period in 1999. While the company does not release regional earnings figures, four Starbucks opened last month in Washington state.

In a recent interview, Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz said people see Starbucks outlets as ``very stable, very high-quality establishments, and that's what we aim for.''

Joshua Wheeler, a 22-year-old student at the University of Washington, visits Starbucks once a day for his coffee because of the consistent taste. ``It's not necessarily superior,'' he said, ``but it's familiar.''