July 9, 2021

Starbucks are closing – and no one cares

Michael Gordon, resident flaneur, reports in:

Have you noticed that most Starbuck’s do not allow you to sit in their café? Sometimes there is outdoor seating and sometimes not:

Also, I’ve noticed that in a few short months in the past year, Starbucks closed five of their cafés within a 15-minute walk of where I live. It’s notable that the two remaining open near me have a parking lot in front of them rather than being street-fronting cafés.

Starbucks Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer assured customers recently that there will still be cafés with sitting but new innovations to build sales are being pursued such “like drive-thru only stores that have no seating, very small units, the side-by-side drive-thru lanes”.

Yes you read that right: innovations like no-seating outlets, just driveway space for cars.

Starbucks is planning to close 400 stores in North America by the end of 2021 and open 300 with a focus on pickup and takeaway – no chairs, no Wi-Fi.  (Apparently, every 15 hours a new Starbucks outlet opens in Mainland China.)

Still, there are five indie cafés with seating within a five-minute walk from where I live despite the Starbucks’ closures, so I’ve not noticed the closures.  One new one is opening soon called ‘Lumien.’ They offer seating, tables, coffee, food, WIFI and will host us when we are looking for one of our third places.

I am intrigued with what is replacing Starbuck’s in their former locations. For example, you can now find at the foot of Yew at Cornwall a café sharing the same space as an eyewear shop staffed with baristas and eyewear stylists – now that’s the kind of innovation I appreciate.

On 4th Avenue, a former Starbucks location will soon be a ‘Turkish Bakery.’    Hmm yum! I’m liking that innovation for a bakery.


Regrettably for Starbucks and thankfully for us, the zoning in Vancouver does not allow drive-thrus anywhere except in some industrial areas. This helps to keep cars off our sidewalks.

The character for shopping and restaurant areas in Vancouver is that they be street-oriented as required by the City’s commercial zoning.

But don’t despair drivers, there is a drive thru Starbuck’s on industrial land at 850 Powell Street.


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  1. Former Squamish councillor Susan Chapelle told me a story (as I remember it) about waiting in an airport in Toronto and falling into a group of suits headed for Squamish to counter what they said was some crazy elected person trying to stop/slow down drive-throughs.

    She let them have their say, then told them she was that person.

    They filled the council chambers with astroturf supporters and won the vote.

    (Starbucks now has a big new drive-through in Squamish.)

    Vote with your feet and bicycle!

  2. Starbucks started the coffee shop as third place trend in 1985 in Seattle. Founder Howard Schultz opened his third shop– the first outside America– two years later in Vancouver at Waterfront Station. Starbucks then was a very unique place that focused on both the European-style ambience and the experience of then unique espresso drinks to attract people. Replicating this on a grand scale, very quickly, required the kind of standardization and systems approaches that robbed the original concept of most of what attracted people to the shops in the first place. It was only a matter of time before people realized that it was neither the quality of the coffee nor the charm of the place that attracted them any longer. It was convenience. Others can compete on that front and that’s where the real estate (location, location, location) became the main driver behind success.

    Where I live in Steveston, we have seven coffee shops in our small village and one additional in Steveston’s East Village. Three of them are brand-name shops, including a Starbucks, which is still open but no longer has indoor seating. It has partially covered outdoor seating in an ideal location for visitor traffic. The other five are local shops, with a couple using branded roast coffee. Everyone attracts a different clientele and offers a unique ambience and the authenticity of that independent design creativity, ownership and operations provides. I suspect Starbucks may close when their lease term expires.

    When I visited Sydney Australia in 2014, I was surprised to see the proliferation of independent coffee shops– with as many as three or four per blocks– in every neighbourhood. They are true third places and part of the culture of the neighbourhoods in which they are located. Competition really forces product quality to rise. I learned, at the time, the entire Metropolitan Sydney area only had seven Starbucks and none of them were very popular.

    I concluded that the proliferation of independent cafes in Sydney had a lot to do with regulations or lack thereof. I probably visited more than 25 coffee shops during my visit. Only two offered on-site washrooms open to the public. When I inquired only a couple of more offered staff-only washrooms. On-site washrooms was not then a requirement. Many shop operators made arrangements in the neighbourhood for access to shared washrooms. In one shop in the Glebe neighbourhood of Sydney, the barista gave me a key and a little card with directions on how to find the washroom, which was a block and a half away, through a side entrance of a building, up a flight of stairs and down an office corridor to a nicely appointed washroom. Parking was also not a requirement, I learned. Every cafe had a street patio and many of them on the outbound curb side on the sidewalk, meaning pedestrians passed between the restaurant and the tables/seats. Some of the best espresso, best small plates for breakfast and lunch and some of the most friendly and interesting conversations were had with local regulars in these many neighbourhood coffee cafes.

    We have a lot to learn in Vancouver in terms of quality of life. It doesn’t start with bylaws and policies drafted by planners and engineers. If you want that, you get Starbucks.

  3. Thank you Bob and Peter. I am pondering writing a follow-up articles on ‘drive throughs.’ I’ve been doing a little research….they emerged in the 1980’s. After two controversial ‘drive-throughs’ – one in Grandview-Woodland and one on East Hastings…I popped into my Director’s office with a Council Report and draft by-law amendments and guidelines banning ‘drive-throughs’ in our pedestrian-oriented shopping areas.

    He did not anticipate the amendments nor, he noted, were they on my work programme but he became convinced to move forward on the zoning amendments…recalling the community opposition to two of them.

    So the by-law amendments and guidelines were approved by Vancouver City Council at the last public hearing chaired by Mayor Mike Harcourt on November 4, 1986. https://guidelines.vancouver.ca/D009.pdf

    Having done some follow up academic research, I now know Vancouver City Council were the first to start banning ‘drive throughs’ with the City of Toronto moving on a ban in 2002. A 2018 academic article on Public Health flagged Vancouver and Toronto as ‘innovators.’

  4. My understanding is that Starbucks is moving to more of a ‘click and collect’ model through their App and the closures all across Canada (not just Vancouver) is a repositioning of the business model.
    With skyhigh property taxes in Vancouver, I can see the advantage of reducing square footage if the majority of their customers do not lounge and linger.

  5. Monocle Magazine created a Starbucks metric used to determine their top 25 most livable cities. The more Starbucks a city has, the least creative and cultured the city is. Starbucks failed miserably in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. Vancouverites seem to love it.

  6. The Starbucks just a few steps away from the inbound platform at New Westminster SkyTrain Station has closed. Used to pop off the train there and back on again to grab a beverage on my way into work. I guess they saw no future in the “click and collect” model for transit users. Oh well…opens up room for room for more more local options where profits stay in the community. Probably a better outcome overall.

    1. In that particular case maybe they were predicting a reduction in transit ridership in a post-COVID work-from-home world?

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