March 14, 2006

Starbucks to Open Opposite Commons

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“Starbucks, your kind of place.” So reads the large poster at 130 E. Seneca Pl., forecasting the coffee shop’s arrival to Ithaca. The question is: is it Ithaca’s kind of place?

Downtown Ithaca is a predominately independent business center, which has traditionally steered away from national chains. However, according to Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, there is a segment of the community that likes national brands. Ferguson believes that this group, which includes Cornell students, would like to see a Starbucks downtown.

“Students up on the Hill have grown up with branding as part of their life,” Ferguson said. “They know what the Gap is, they know what Banana Republic is … having one or two [national] stores like that, may go a long way…”

Starbucks will make its debut in Ithaca on April 14. Seneca Place, Starbucks’ future home, is located across from the Commons. The building also currently houses a Hilton Garden Inn and Cornell office space. Ferguson said that Ithaca is a market that Starbucks has expressed interest in for sometime. Until now, however, they had trouble finding a location.

Currently, there are two independently run coffee shops in the Commons, Juna’s Cafe and Matte Factor. Locals also frequent Gimme! Coffee on Cayuga and West State streets for a quick morning jolt.

The question, of course, is whether Starbucks will take the customers away from the traditional stops of choice. Starbucks has certain clear advantages over the local shops: it has a nationally recognized name, assembly line efficiency and an easy-access location. Starbucks may also be more appealing to tourists who seek out a coffee shop with which they are familiar.

On the other hand, Starbucks does not have local ties or bonds. More than one person interviewed by The Sun said they will choose not to visit the new Starbucks, because they are friends with an individual who works at or owns one of the local coffee shops.

Prices may be another factor saving the local shops, as Starbucks prices are notoriously high.

Kathleen Pasetty, co-owner of Juna’s, is concerned about the new Starbucks but recognizes it as inevitability.

“All small businesses are struggling,” she said. “So of course we’re concerned, but we have to be realistic.”

The manager of Matte Factor, who wished to only go by his first name, Yediydyah, shared Pasetty’s view of inevitability.

“There’s a lot things I don’t agree with in the corporate business world, but there is not a lot we can do to stop it,” said Yediydyah

Despite these concerns, both Yediydyah and Pasetty said they believe their cafes will survive.

Pasetty said she was confident “the tremendous local loyalty,” high quality coffee and lower prices will help save her business. Pasetty also alluded to, but did not embellish upon, secret plans in the works to fight Starbucks.

Kevin Cuddleback, owner and founder of Gimme! Coffee, however has no such plans prepared. Cuddleback believes Starbucks will be successful, but that his own company will survive on its quality and prices alone.

“People bring [the new Starbucks] up, thinking it will be a grave concern to me, [but] it’s not going to change my business model … most of our customers are driven by quality and our quality is better than Starbucks, and their prices are higher,” said Cuddleback.

None of the three small business owners were surprised at the arrival of Starbucks, as rumors have circulated for quite some time.

Locals seemed to have been prepared for the newest import from Seattle, as well. Many locals expressed their beliefs that competition will be healthy for the community, and might help improve the coffee shops already here.

“Competition is good, it is not a bad thing.,” said Kris Lewis, a lifetime resident of Ithaca who also owns a store in the Commons. “The thought is that the local coffee shops will be able to compete as long as they keep sharp.”

Local coffee shops will not be the only stores affected by Starbucks. According to Robert Frank, professor of management and economics at the Johnson School of Business, the introduction of Starbucks will probably be positive for Ithaca’s economy as a whole.

“Starbucks has historically been associated with economic vitality,” he said. “You tend to see Starbucks in neighborhoods where there is more activity as opposed to less … that’s not to say that Starbucks causes economic activity, but there is probably some effect of Starbucks itself.”

Frank also hypothesized that the name recognition will also bring more people downtown, thus positively affecting nearby store; this was also the hope of Ithaca Downtown Partnership.

Lewis, however, believes the location of Starbucks might actually hurt her business in the Commons. Currently, according to Lewis, the coffee shops in the Commons draw customers because people need to walk into the pedestrian-only area to get their coffee. While there, the coffee-seekers may stop to shop in a store or two. People choosing to drive to Starbucks, however, might be less likely to walk by their shops.

Those who do drive to Starbucks will most likely include the students on the Hill that Ferguson alluded to.

Mara Eisenbaum ’07, said she will go “out of her way” to go to Starbucks because “they make a good cup of coffee, and I miss it.”

Archived article by Lauren Hirsch
Sun Staff Writer