Where Minneapolis leads…

In September, 2016, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported:

Starbucks is expanding its presence in the Twin Cities with several new shops in the works, including one in downtown Minneapolis.

The Seattle coffee chain has signed a lease for Nic on 5th, the 26-story luxury apartment tower The Opus Group developed in 2014 on Nicollet Mall and Fifth Avenue.

The 2,500-square-foot shop will likely open this spring…

Starbucks already has pulled a remodeling permit for its downtown Minneapolis shop and has begun construction, according to the city’s property website.

The space is on the side of the Nic on 5th building facing Marquette Avenue and is in front of a light rail stop.

This is the first confirmed retail tenant in the building, which opened two years ago…

Kris Schisel of Colliers International Minneapolis-St. Paul handles retail leasing for Nic on 5th. She said there’s been “great activity on restaurant concepts” for the Nicollet side of the building, though she had no announcement to make.

Such optimism soon ran into reality. Three years ago I sent my colleague, John Hinderaker, some of my experiences of visiting that branch:

When I quit smoking, coffee replaced cigarettes and I’ve been frequenting a Starbucks in downtown Minneapolis twice a day since November, 2017. One day in March 2018, I couldn’t. The branch, like every other one nationwide, had closed so staff could be trained in some sort of ‘social justice’ thing after some guys were kicked out of a Starbucks in Philadelphia for not buying anything. Starbucks’ response was to make their branches ‘safe spaces’ for anyone, whether they had bought anything or not.

At that point, Starbucks stopped being a chain of coffee shops and turned into a network of public urinals and flop houses with a coffee bar attached.

You might not have seen this in some of the suburban branches. But the branch I go to downtown quickly filled up with non-paying “customers” who would get their complimentary water – in a planet-suffocating plastic cup with plastic straw, no less – and make themselves at home. Often, around half the seating in this branch was taken up by people with these complimentary drinks, charging their phones, with their baggage spread out around them.

Many of these people were perfectly pleasant. But many of them were not. I saw arguments. I saw fights. I saw paying customers pestered for money. I saw people helping themselves to food without paying. I saw people breaking out a speaker and blaring their music out, whether anyone else wanted to hear it or not. I saw groups of people disappearing into the bathroom together. I saw another guy’s butt.

I’ve done a few “nametag and hairnet” jobs in my time, so I felt sorry for the staff, who have never been anything less than thoroughly professional and courteous. Here they were, without the wages or training to do so, having to act as counselors to people with drug and mental health issues, all so some millionaire CEO somewhere could feel #woke. They thought they were going to be working at a trendy coffee shop, they ended up in the Double Deuce from the movie Road House instead.

This winter, the situation got so bad that the management had to act. Half of the branch’s seats – the comfortable ones by the window – were removed. A security camera was installed, with the goings on at the back of the store by the bathroom being broadcast on a big screen. A private security guard was brought in to expel the more brazen offenders. “All Are Welcome” ceases to apply when people actually take you up on it.

That Starbucks is no longer there. As I wrote last year, when COVID-19 hit in March, 2020:

…the Starbucks on Marquette and 5th that I stopped in every morning closed, and has never reopened. 

Where Minneapolis leads other cities are following. CNBC reported recently:

Starbucks will close 16 U.S. stores, mostly on the West Coast, by the end of July because of safety concerns, according to the company. Most of the stores set to close are in the Los Angeles and Seattle metro areas.

“We’ve had to make the difficult decision to close some locations that have a particularly high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe for us to operate,” a Starbucks spokesperson told CNBC.

Concern about store safety was central to a letter to employees published on Monday from Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, two senior vice presidents of U.S. operations at the coffee chain. The letter cites several societal safety concerns, including increased violence and drug use in the area of the stores.

“We know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores too. We read every incident report you file — it’s a lot,” the letter said. “Simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don’t first feel safe at work.”

This is exactly what I was seeing in Minneapolis three years ago.

Think back to September, 2016. Starbucks’ expansion of its presence in the Twin Cities seems to be over. When the Starbucks on 5th and Marquette closed I started going to the one on 6th. When looting inexplicably broke out after someone committed suicide in August 2020, that branch was wrecked and it closed down too. As for the other great restaurant concepts at Nic on 5th, Hopcat, the bar on the other corner, 5th and Nicollet, closed in September, 2020. The amenities that caused so much excitement six years ago are gone. The city has declined.

Minneapolis leads the country, but you might not like where it is going.