Monday, April 20, 2020

Starbucks Reclaimed

During the COVID-19 shutdown, some of the Starbucks outlets in the East Village remain open and some have closed for the duration. The one on East Third Street and First Avenue has closed.

It has been reclaimed by the homeless of the East Village, who have gradually constructed a large encampment around it -- a fate, however temporary, that seems somehow fitting for a chain location so hated by locals when it opened.

When this location first opened in 2012, it replaced The Bean, the locally owned coffee shop beloved by many.

East Villagers, angry that another corporate chain had replaced another local small business, protested by throwing eggs at the Starbucks and plastering it with posters that read, "Get the fuck out," among other messages involving shit.

via EV Grieve

Years before, this location had been the Little Rickie shop. Little Rickie was sued by Starbucks in 1999 for selling stickers that changed the words on the Starbucks Coffee logo to say FUCK OFF. Starbucks sued a number of local businesses for distributing the stickers, including Alt Coffee on Avenue A.

Said the owner of Alt to the Times, ''New York City is being mallified and when you start to sterilize things and limit choices, people in the East Village don't like it."

From the beginning of gentrification in the East Village, the removal of the homeless was a key strategy in turning the neighborhood over to corporations, big developers, and market-rate newcomers. That's what the Tompkins Square Park riots were all about in 1988--the city's NYPD swooping in to remove homeless people from the park, and the people fighting back against class war.

It's too early to know how the coronavirus shutdown will impact life in the East Village, and across the city, in the long-term. It is likely that many small businesses will permanently vanish, and that many chains will get government bailouts and remain. It's possible that all we'll be left with are Starbucks and others like it.

But, for now, there remains the possibility that some balance could return to our neighborhoods, once the tragedy of the pandemic recedes, that commercial and residential rents could come down, that big developers, corporations, and hyper-gentrifiers will lose some of their interest in New York, leaving space for mom and pops, artists, and other outsiders to return.

We have to find hope, even in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain.