Starbucks closings: Has America rethought its coffee?

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A few years ago, while visiting relatives in Boston, I began to notice a trend: every block, without fail, had a Dunkin' Donuts at the corner and a Starbucks halfway down the street. As I saw this phenomenon endlessly repeated, I had to laugh. My little town in southwest Virginia didn't have a single Starbucks or Dunkin', but this area had one every 100 feet.

Later that year, the first Starbucks opened in my area. Located in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, it was not a full-sized cafe. Still, it did a brisk business, and it wasn't long before my area had two more Starbucks. While I'm not the world's biggest coffee fan, I somehow found my way down to the store a couple of times a week for a frothy, whipped-cream covered potion of some sort. I couldn't really afford to spend $10 a week on hyper-sweetened, strongly caffeinated diabetes-bombs, but there was something about Starbucks. Between the calm atmosphere, the comfy chairs and the efficient service, I was hooked.

When I moved to the city, I broke off our relationship. It was just too hard. First off, in midtown Manhattan, where I worked, there's a Starbucks on every corner, so it was impossible to escape the siren-song of pricey cappuccinos. Second, between the coffee and the sweet snacks, I was starting to bear a slight resemblance to Luciano Pavoratti. Finally, the place was just too damn expensive, and I realized that I was facing a choice between Starbucks and regular meals. With a heavy heart, I bid Starbucks goodbye and began getting my coffee from the local corner store, where it was $0.75. Now that I work from home, it's a lot easier -- there aren't any Starbucks in my area, and the local bodega serves outstanding coffee for $0.60 a cup.
Citing oversaturation and acknowledging that they may have hurt their brand, Starbucks recently announced plans to shut down 600 of its stores. Analysts have claimed that part of the reason for the retailers' step backward may be the recession; after all, with the dollar inflating and money becoming ever tighter, $5 coffee drinks just aren't a priority. I have to admit that this makes a lot of sense: even my relatively small Starbucks habit had me spending over $500 a year on empty calories that I really didn't need to consume. For people who go to Starbucks on a daily basis, the tab is upwards of $1,000. When things are good and gas is below $2 a gallon, driving around the corner to spend ten bucks on a cup of coffee and a scone may not seem that odd. However, when ramen is starting to look good again and vacation consists of going to the mall, where you don't have to pay for air conditioning, Starbucks is definitely a luxury. I'm just surprised that more people haven't made the switch to convenience store coffee!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He talks big, but sometimes he just holds a picture of Starbucks and cries.
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