Our Town: Williston Park misses Starbucks

Dr Tom Ferraro

You may recall that we once had our very own Starbucks right here at 14 Hillside Ave. in Williston Park. 

How I loved to saunter over every afternoon at about 3 p.m. to get my jolt of coffee and bump into a friend or two. 

Well they moved out about eight years ago and the best I can do now is to get into my car, and I hate to get into my car, go up Willis Avenue to Roslyn Heights and get my daily fix of caffeine at 373 Willis Ave. in Roslyn Heights. 

You may have noticed that I rarely if ever choose to write about chain stores or anything corporate. As James Kunstler so aptly explained in “The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape,” chain stores tend to deplete the towns they inhabit by sucking money out and leaving it worse off them before they arrived.  

But in the case of Starbucks I made an exception to my rule. They are simply so good at what they do that they warrant some ink and some applause. 

Of course I knew before writing this piece that I would have to jump through corporate hoops before getting an interview and I hate jumping through the corporate hoops even more then I hate driving cars. When I went into the Starbucks in question to get the interview I was not at all shocked to hear “Oh, you have to contract our media department by going to Starbucks.com and ask them.” This did not annoy me enough to ditch the whole idea.

So here we go, sans the corporate interview, on what Starbucks means to our little town. There has been much written about Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, and his amazing success with this coffee house. 

According to his book “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life without Losing Its Soul,” Howard was a bright energetic entrepreneur from Brooklyn who settled in Seattle, got involved with a small coffee company and saw an opportunity to develop it. His eureka moment came on a business trip to Milan, Italy where he noticed that every street had a coffee shop where people would come to sip espresso and chat both before and after the workday. 

To make a very long story short, he eventually turned his romance with the Italian coffeehouse into the largest coffeehouse company in the world with over 20,000 stores in 62 countries. Now that’s a lot of coffee. So how did he do it?

Naturally Schultz is ambitious, but more than that he is wise and very insightful. He quickly recognized that Italy had it right. People needed that ‘third place’ where they could get away from home and from work and simply relax a little bit while in a community setting. 

The idea of coffeehouses have been around for many centuries. The European coffeehouse was a place where intellectuals and artists would come to talk philosophy and politics. It was a place where you could spend time without having to eat a full meal and spend a fortune. Our Starbucks really does hold to this very important tradition.

In the Roslyn Heights Starbucks you will see kids working on their computers while older couples are chatting away. You will see someone getting interviewed for a job, two women playing chess and across the room a few guys fooling around and generally enjoying themselves as they sip their coffee. The interior design is decidedly masculine or maybe metrosexual with all that wood and leather and browns and greens.

In fact, there are lots to appreciate about Starbucks. Schultz did get it right by seeing that Americans need a place to meet without spending too much money. He also got it right by maintaining strict quality control of their coffee, their food and their environment. He was even smart enough to use the old European standard, the community table, to encourage chance encounters with neighbors and friends. 

Most recently I see that they even have a thermos that looks like one of those great Frank Gehry buildings. 

The human spirit is endlessly adaptive and so is the American entrepreneur. We have all become exceptionally overworked and isolated in America. We are stuck in our suburban homes and in our offices. We need a place to meet outside of home and work, a place to find our long lost community. And Howard Shultz’s Starbucks is the best example to date of a made environment that answers that need.  

We are all aware of the debates over which coffee is better: Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, your local coffee house or Starbucks. That misses the point. Starbucks has good enough coffee in a more then good enough environment, that’s its magic. 

So thank you Howard Schultz and thank you Mr. or Ms. Barista for all your hard work. I for one appreciate you. I just wish you’d come back to Williston Park so I wouldn’t have to drive to get my daily cappuccino.

Share this Article