Starbucks’ relationship with New Yorkers has now settled into middle age. And as anyone who’s ever forged bonds in the throes of passion knows, time tends to dull a suitor’s ardor. The idiosyncratic qualities that once made New Yorkers the object of such intense interest and attention in the first place—our standoffishness, our demanding nature, our very unattainability—have come to be viewed as annoyances, or worse. The signs of strain in Starbucks’ relationship with New Yorkers have been visible for some time.
The cushy chairs were the first to go. The original flagship New York City store was shuttered. Then some city Starbucks stores started barring laptop use during peak hours. Reuters broke the story last year that many New York City stores have begun to block electric outlets to discourage laptop users altogether. Last winter, under the headline, “Just a ‘wee’ change,” the New York Post reported that the city’s Starbucks had been steadily closing its restrooms. The Post quoted “a source familiar with the company’s New York plans,” as complaining that “Starbucks cannot be the public bathroom in the city anymore.” Those discounted refills (actually free if you have a Starbucks Rewards card) now are the subject of increasingly frequent grilling at the counter by those once highly solicitous baristas: Did you really consume that beverage in the store? And, as message boards with names like www.ihatestarbucks.com attest, the interrogation sometimes continues as to whether the consumption actually took place over the last hour...
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