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Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2003 / 26 Shevat, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Sipping Starbucks on the sly | NEW YORK Some come prancing in, eager, excited. Some come looking down, hiding their faces. Either way, they are here for the same drug:


Two weeks ago, Starbucks opened up in the lobby of our 10th Ave. nothing-around-but-auto-body-shops office building. This might not have been such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that a small, scrappy newsstand has been peddling coffee - and candy and Lotto and yellowing birthday cards - in that same lobby for 20 years. Now the old and the new sit side by side, a study in globalization.

And guilt.

"The guys running the newsstand have been with us through thick and thin," my colleague Michelle said when I asked if she'd tried the Starbucks yet. "I didn't even take the free samples when Starbucks was offering them!" chimed in her pal Joe.

"They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps," declared Michelle.

"And they're so sweet!" one-upped Joe.

"I don't know how I'll ever go in there," Michelle said about the new store - until Lan, looking up from her computer, couldn't stand it anymore.

"I admit it!" cried Lan. "I go to Starbucks!"

Silence. Then Michelle asked if Lan would mind getting her a chai tea latte the next time she goes downstairs.

Yes, my think-global, buy-local buddies, that is the way it's going here: Fierce loyalty to the little guy is being sorely tempted by the trendy. If this keeps up, the world soon could be run by a triumvirate of the Gap, Sony and Altoids - if it isn't already.

Three lovely young things visiting the new Starbucks offered a bouquet of guilt-reducing rationales:

"I got a coupon," said Arelis. "This space was empty anyway," said Cynthia. "And there's a big difference between this coffee and theirs," said Carola, shrugging toward the newsstand.

As they sipped, looking like something out of "Sex and the City," in walked three men from their office, looking like something out of "The King of Queens."

The young women were shocked. "They used to make their own coffee at 3 o'clock!" said Carola. But, clearly, this is where the party has moved. Maybe Starbucks is so successful simply because for the price of a cappuccino, anyone can join the cool crowd.

From behind his candy counter, Tony Patel peered in and sighed. How's business?

"A little slow."

"Like, terrible?"

"Coffeewise, yes."

Tony is hanging his hopes not on loyalty, but on marketing. He has started offering coffee and a buttered roll for 99 cents.

Meanwhile, he's waiting for customers to realize four bucks for a caffeine buzz is grandé theft. Starbucks, he hopes, will drown in its own foam.

Whether Tony's and every other coffee counter in the country will be alive to see it - well, that's something to discuss over a half-decaf macchiato with skim.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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10/24/02: Your health, their wealth
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09/24/02: Reality hits Mickey
09/19/02: Should you report me to the authorities?
09/12/02: War and love: Romance rises from the ashes
08/30/02: If beer is good, spinoffs are great
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