Monday, July 27, 2009

"Independent" independents? Depends.

WB caught a quiet little weekend story on NPR the other day about a new business called 15th Ave. Coffee and Tea opening in Seattle. Reading this, you might think, what kind of coffee shop startup would be foolish enough to try and compete in Seattle, Washington — the home of Starbuck's?

Good question. The new store hopes to succeed by having a different decor, different menu, different servers, and a different name than the company that owns it: Starbuck's.

Yes, Starbuck's is going "local" — just like Wal-Mart and shopping malls are hoping to feel "local" as they keep repeating the word over and over to consumers. But unlike Wal-Mart and Sears and JC Penny and Foot Locker, Starbuck's is going further with the "local" idea by intentionally distancing itself from itself.

15th Avenue Coffee and Tea has no plans to expand — yet. That comes later, after it succeeds at seeming like a locally-owned neighborhood place, you know, a real neighborhood place, not like Applebee's that only wants you to think you're "eating good in the neighborhood."

Jean Baudrillard is smiling in his grave at this intricate simulation and simulacra show, brought to us by one of the biggest corporations in the world and one that has acted as a steamroller to flatten the genuine local-coffeeshop scene in many cities. There's no irony in any of this, there are only layers of simulation, and if we prefer some 15th Avenue coffee because it seems more genuinely local, then that's really all that matters... to Starbuck's.

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