Scratch One Starbucks

This Starbucks at the corner of Sycamore and Third Street in German Village has closed. It’s fair to say that opinions are divided about that .

The coffee-obsessed Starbucks addicts are sad, of course. They’ll have to go a bit farther for their triple-spice grande cinnamon lattes and scones — but not too much farther, because Starbucks are ubiquitous in Columbus, and there are two other Starbucks that are only short walks and even shorter drives away. On the other hand, people who live in the immediate surroundings, like us, won’t be sorry to this particular Starbucks go. We might lose the so-called “Starbucks effect” — which associates Starbucks locations with higher home prices — but we’ll also lose litter, constant illegal parking by the coffee-crazed customers of the store, and lots of coffee-fueled traffic rattling through our neighborhood. And we’ve still got a nice homegrown coffee emporium, Stauf’s, that’s less than a block away.

The story around the neighborhood is that this Starbucks store, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade, was closed because Starbucks is transitioning to more of a drive-thru business model, and there is no room (fortunately) for a drive-thru set-up at this location. The drive-thru concept seems weird to me, and contrary to the whole coffee house concept in the first place — which, initially at least, sought to offer comfortable chairs and tables and friendly atmospheres that allowed customers to sit and chat and work on their laptops while sipping their cups of Joe. Now it’s grab and go and slug down your sugary concoction in the car.

This location won’t be vacant for long; a local shop that sells handmade soaps and lotions is moving from another location in our neighborhood into the former Starbucks space. And with the closure of the Starbucks those of us who walk the neighborhood won’t have to dodge the Starbucks zealots zooming around corners, mindlessly parking in no-parking spots rather than legal spots, and then backing up through pedestrian crosswalks without so much as a backward glance because they are just too important and rushed to proceed legally. I’m not sad about that.

Drive-Thru Death

Businesses are always pushing the envelope with drive-thru options. Some work, some don’t, but no company thinks it will go broke by assuming that many Americans would rather do just about everything while their plump behinds are resting comfortably on the pillow-like seats of their vehicles.

But . . . a drive-thru option that allows you to take a gander at the dearly departed from behind the wheel of your car?  That’s what one Virginia funeral home is offering.  Just go to the drive-thru lane, take a good look through the plate-glass window at the deceased, check the sign saying when the burial will occur, and head on home.

Well, sure.  Why not?  It’s a pain to get out of your car and wait in line during calling hours.  Those lines seem to take forever, don’t they?  And then, when you reach the casket and the distraught family members, it can be such a downer trying to say a few comforting words and express how much the person who has passed meant to you.  And standing next to a corpse in a casket can be so creepy!  If you see it through the window, you avoid those awkward moments with the bereaved and can see the body from a comfortable physical and emotional distance — like it was on TV.

And speaking of TV, why not just set up a “casket cam” that sending streaming video of the decedent to anyone who logs in on the internet, and makes death even more convenient for us all?  It seems like the logical next step.

That Failed Drive-Thru Dry Cleaner Concept

Recently Kish asked me to stop by the dry cleaners to pick up some clothing.  “Just go to the drive-thru window,” she added helpfully.

Eh?  A drive-thru dry cleaners?  Intrigued, I drove to the side of the dry cleaner shop, where there was an open door rather than a drive-thru window.  I summoned the clerk, gave her our name, and then watched for minutes as she moved the moving hanger line around for several loops, looking for our clothing.  It was vaguely embarrassing to see into the rear of the store as she searched, like looking through an open door into a stranger’s kitchen and seeing them eating at their table.  After she found our clothing, the clerk came back over to the open door and handed me the hangers.

At that point I realized that the drive-thru concept really didn’t work.  Unlike a bag of burgers or a Coke, clothes on hangers aren’t easily passed through the driver’s side window.  You have to wrangle the hangers through, dragging the clothes against the side of the car.  And once they are inside, what do you do?  Leave them bunched up in your lap?  Toss them into the passenger seat?  From a sitting position in the driver’s seat, only a contortionist could reach around and hang them on the hooks above the back seat windows.  So, I had to open the door, clumsily get out with the clothes — which, of course, defeats the entire purpose of a drive-thru — and hang them properly.  The lady watched my fumbling performance, probably chuckling inwardly at a show she’s seen over and over again.

Are Americans really so lazy that we demand that a drive-thru option be available for every imaginable consumer business?  Here are two simple rules that should be applied to determine whether a drive-thru concept is well-suited to the business.  First, does the business sell a product that can be delivered comfortably through a driver’s side window?  Second, can a reasonably coordinated driver do something with the product without ruining it?

I’m hoping these two simple rules prevent doomed yet irritating business ideas like drive-thru haircuts, drive-thru tailors, and drive-thru wedding cake bakeries.