Starbucks in North Beach?

La Boulange de Columbus

Chain stores are not welcome in North Beach.

Over the last 2 decades Walgreens and other chains that wanted to open here were blocked by neighborhood protest. Since 2005 chain stores with more than 11 outposts have been banned by the San Francisco ordinance designed to maintain North Beach’s unique character by keeping out “formula retail” chains that you can find anywhere in America.

So with that kind of protection how does Starbucks get into North Beach? It’s easy. Starbucks just announced that it will buy the local La Boulange Cafe and Bakery chain for a hundred million dollars. La Boulange has a cafe in North Beach.

La Boulange now has 19 cafes scattered around the Bay Area but when La Boulange de Columbus opened it was only the 5th cafe in a fast-growing chain. Some neighbors weren’t too happy about even a small chain moving in but La Boulange prevailed.

Starbucks could never get a North Beach permit on its own. The La Boulange purchase gives Starbucks a coveted North Beach outlet. Soon all Starbucks locations will only serve La Boulange baked goods and all La Boulange cafes will only serve Starbucks coffee.

I hope old-time North Beach institutions like Caffe Puccini, Caffe Trieste, Caffe Roma, Cavalli Cafe and Caffe Greco continue to flourish with Starbucks in their midst. We’ll see. I’m reminded of the bumper sticker supporting local roasters and coffeehouses from the early days of the Starbucks Bay Area invasion , “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go To Starbucks”. North Beach, take notice.

2 Replies to “Starbucks in North Beach?”

  1. Your headline and article smacked me between the eyes. I’m so discouraged to read this. And it is an issue of great emotional weight to me. Great-grandma roots in North Beach is part of it, but I also wrote my dissertation (unpublished) on North Beach, called A Sense of Place: Telling and Selling the Story of an Italian neighborhood. I devoted one entire chapter of my research/write-up to this topic, called it Cafe Wars. This was back in the early 1990s and I was documenting Starbucks then failed effort to get into the neighborhood against loud and proud local protests, but also comparing their failure to do so at a time when Ben and Jerry’s franchise got traction in North Beach. Starbucks vs. Trieste, Puccini, Greco? Ben and Jerry’s vs. gelaterias of the day? It was an interesting comparison of corporate efforts and local woo-ing and perceptions of corporate culture.

    Oh well… I was somehow hoping Starbucks would never find a way in — through a front or back door. As my mama would say, oh mi dio santo. I pray the locations and people of my other dissertation chapters — Stellas, the bocce court regulars, August at the focaccia shop — are still alive and well.

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