Starbucks has hefty expectations for their new coffee shop opening Wednesday in Englewood, its first such store in the predominantly African-American Chicago neighborhood. They’re hoping that their presence will encourage economic development in an often neglected and impoverished area. It’s the chain’s fourth such shop, as they’ve opened similar locations in Ferguson, Mo., Phoenix and Queens, N.Y.
The company wants to build 15 such locations, and the concept stemmed from the well-intentioned, yet poorly-conceived "Race Together" campaign from two years ago. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has sought to find a way for the coffee shop to hold a presence in impoverished areas, seeing it as a matter of corporate social responsibility. A drive through Ferguson after the response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown helped spark the concept, said Rodney Hines, Starbucks’ U.S. Retail Operations director for community investments.
"That was the beginning of our thinking of ‘What do we do? How do we show up in Ferguson? How do we show up in communities like Englewood’," Hines said.
The shop created 26 jobs, a mix of both full- and part-time positions. Starbucks looked at unemployment and high school graduation rates to figure out if they should enter a community. There’s another wrinkle in Englewood, as this shop will sell red velvet cheesecake brownies from Laine’s Bake Shop, located in Morgan Park. They’ve entered into similar agreements with other bakeries in Phoenix and Ferguson.
"The majority of our partners actually come from Englewood, from the South Side of Chicago," Hines said. "We’re anchored by our partners and their connections with this community."
They’ve also partnered with Teamwork Englewood and will offer additional training opportunities to locals. There’s a training room inside the shop, divided by sliding glass doors that creates a kind of class or board room. The hope it to help train both potential Starbucks employees and to provide translatable skills to those who don’t have as many educational opportunities, thus better preparing them to enter the workforce. They also hired Ujamaa Construction as the shop’s general contractor. They’re locally- and minority-owned.
Hines also wants community groups to use the room. He wants to see police officers using the resource as a place to talking with residents about the disconnect between the community and the force.
The coffee shop is opening in conjunction with a new Whole Foods inside the Englewood Square development at Halsted and 63rd. Some items at the Whole Foods will be sold at a sliding price scale so nearby residents could better afford them, the same strategy used at a Detroit store. Starbucks is not employing such a strategy, Hines said. Their research shows that Englewood residents will commute and seek out Starbucks. They didn’t want to give residents an imitation, but the full-fledged experience.
Kenyarah Williams has worked with Starbucks for eight years, and she’s the manager of the Englewood shop after her promotion. The Englewood resident is happy to have a Starbucks nearby and scoffs at the notion that the poor don’t need a coffee shop.
"The people in Englewood, we spend money on coffee, and most of us like Frappuchinos," she said with a smile. "Most of us that are in the urban areas, we are actually their best customers, surprisingly."