Friday, December 7, 2012

What, No Starbucks?

Traverse City, Michigan

In the early 21st Century, I was traveling through London (my favorite city), and wishing to enjoy the warm afternoon, took one of those open upper-deck tour buses through the city. We left in front of a Starbucks, and after completing the loop through the old and newer portions of this ancient city, I had counted 47 Starbucks. Mind you, this was over ten years ago, my guess, there are now 500. What city in America doesn’t have a Starbucks? It is a rite-of-passage from hick to chic.

Developers will kill to get a Starbucks on their front corner. Where Starbucks goes so does the neighborhood, more shops, better demographics, a follow-the-leader mentality develops. And to be honest I love the stuff, I drink it daily, own some shares, and eat lunch there once and while. I have even found a Starbucks on a pier in a fishing village in Turkey. They are literally everywhere and according to their growth projections, intend to have beach front stores in the Arctic when the ice cap melts. They believe the green in Greenland means opportunity.

So, earlier this year I was making a stop in my ancestral home in Northern Michigan, Traverse City, to have a book signing and reading (see right, Elk River). This comfortable town, with an historic pedigree and wonderful location, just whispers in the ear, “Relax, kick-back, enjoy.”

So as we approached, after an easy drive up from Chicago, I turned to my wife and said the infamous words, “Frappaccino?”

“Yes,” was the quick reply. So for the next fifteen minutes we drove up and down Front Street and State Street looking for the magical elixir. Nada, nothing, zilch, neyetsky, bumcus. What the heck is going on? This is the 21st Century; even a dock in Turkey has a Starbucks for Peets sake. Why not in my hometown? And, to be honest, I still don’t know why.

There is rumored to be one buried inside a Meijer’s Super Store, well super. And it’s on US-31 a few miles outside of town. Who cares? This is a town with 15,000 people for crying out loud, and, in summer, swells to three or four times that with tourists from cities like Chicago, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing Michigan – all adequately served by the Seattle based chain of dope dealers caffeine pushers. You would think …

Front Street - Fall
The town’s bookstore, where I was signing, is a delight, Horizon Books, and they have a nice coffee bar that is well attended and quite good. But it’s not a Starbucks (one second while I sip), not the life giver, the morning kick-starter, the boot-in-the-butt we need to get rolling in the 21st Century.

Why not Traverse City? I really don’t know. I Googled it this morning and there is still only one, the US-31 store (if it’s even that big!). Is it a conspiracy to punish these fine people for the great beaches and less than crazy lifestyle? Is it because delivery costs are too high (doubt that – see Turkey above), is it because the local government has passed anti-franchise laws (don’t know), is it some fallout from the whole Michigan thing (whatever that is), I really don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Urbanists can scratch their collective heads over this. For me, well, it's a strange one and when we hit Grand Rapids (10 listed) on the way back to Chicago, I fulfilled my wife’s wish.

Stay Tuned . . . . . .

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