The Reverse Starbucks Effect

Some years ago I wrote about the so-called “Starbucks Effect.” discovered when economists had crunched some numbers and found that houses located near a Starbucks coffee shop appreciated more than houses far away from the nearest Starbucks. The open question was whether the finding was the result of causation–i.e., that the decision to locate a Starbucks caused house prices to climb–or simple correlation.

Now, perhaps, we’ll get to see if there is a reverse “Starbucks Effect,” because the ubiquitous coffee chain is closing 16 stores–one in Washington, D.C., one in central Philadelphia, six in the Seattle area, six in the Los Angeles area, and two in Portland–because of personal safety concerns reported by employees. Many of the safety concerns, set forth in “incident reports” Starbucks employees submitted to the company, apparently involve drug use issues and encounters with customers and the general public.

A news article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the closure of the Philadelphia location reports that the Starbucks and other businesses in the Center City District had persistent problems with drug users in bathrooms, and that Starbucks has changed its policies to empower store employees to close restrooms and even entire stores in response to safety concerns. The Inquirer article noted that the drug use problem at the Philadelphia Starbucks was so significant that the store installed blue light bulbs in the bathroom, which are supposed to deter intravenous drug use by making veins less visible, In addition, the article reported that the store was the source of a number of “calls for service” to the Philadelphia police, primarily for individuals fighting.

It’s sad to think that coffee shops have become such unsafe spaces in some cities, but you can’t blame Starbucks for closing locations where there is a pattern of safety concerns that raise obvious liability risks. And you also have to wonder how people in the neighborhoods where the Starbucks stores are closing feel about the decision. What kind of message does it send if your area is deemed too unsafe for a Starbucks?

A Return To Masking Up In Philadelphia

I’ve very enjoyed the month or so of relatively mask-free life since Columbus lifted its mask mandate in early March. Other than masking up for air travel, things were starting to feel like they were returning to the pre-pandemic “normal”–or at least, a reasonable resemblance of it. That’s why I experienced a chill when I read last night that Philadelphia has decided to return to a mask mandate and become the first major U.S. city to do so.

Philadelphia is going back to masks because a rise in COVID-19 cases in the City of Brotherly Love has hit the metric that triggers masking requirements. Starting April 18–a week-long delay was established to allow businesses to adjust–Philadelphia will again require masks in indoor public spaces, like restaurants, offices, and shops. Businesses have the option of requiring proof of vaccination in lieu of masks. In explaining the cause for the new mask regime, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

“Philadelphia established a benchmark system in March that uses case counts, hospitalizations, and the rate of case increase to determine which safety strategies are needed. The seven-day daily average of cases, 142 as of April 8, and a 60% increase in case counts over the past 10 days met the standards to reintroduce the indoor mask mandate. There were 44 people hospitalized in the city Monday, a slight decrease from last week.”

The Philadelphia system of establishing triggers raises an interesting question: should raw numbers control policy, or should public officials exercise their judgment and weigh other issues? Are 142 cases a day and 44 hospitalizations in a city of about 1.5 million sufficient to cause reimposition of a mask mandate, and should other considerations–like obvious mask fatigue on the part of the population, and questions about how a general public that keenly wants to be done with COVID will react to a return to masking–come into play? Will reimposition of mask mandates result in protests and general civil disobedience and noncompliance with the order?

I hope public officials in Columbus and elsewhere are seriously thinking about the possible consequences of a return to masking, because there will be pressure from some quarters to follow Philadelphia’s lead. CNN reports that COVID cases are rising in the U.S., although the numbers are low compared to what we experienced in 2020 and 2021. And, curiously, Philadelphia’s reimposition of its mandate is coming on the same day that the current federal mask mandate for the transportation sector is set to expire. It will be an odd juxtaposition indeed if cities are reinstituting mask requirements at the same time the federal government is lifting them.

Rage Rooms

The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Flyers play, has announced a first for major-league American sports arenas.  It has developed a “rage room” where disappointed, angry sports fans can go and vent their frustration at their team’s performance by smashing things up.

rage-roomThe Disassembly Room — the rage room’s official name — allows users to don some protective gear and then smash plates, throw stemware, splinter mirrors into shards, break the opposing team’s logo, and take a sledgehammer to a television set.  Philadelphia fans apparently endorsed the idea of a rage room as allowing them  to have some “harmless fun.”  Although the linked article doesn’t say, presumably the use of the Disassembly Room comes at a cost — and I expect that only one person at a time gets to use it.  When it’s in use, by the way, other guests can watch the rage in progress via closed-circuit TV and get their violent activities fix remotely.

Speaking as a lifelong Cleveland sports fan who has experienced some of the boiling frustration that comes from failed sports teams, I can understand the impetus for a sports “rage room.”  But, seriously, is giving angry sports fans a place to vent really a good idea that is “harmless fun” — or is it encouraging acting out violent tendencies that people should be trying to control instead?  I’m not sure handing a sledgehammer or tire iron to somebody whose team just lost a crucial game really makes a lot of sense.

Maybe a Calming Room, where soothing lights and music are featured and back and neck massages are administered to users, would be a better idea.

The Lot Of The Working Stiff

Starbucks is embroiled in protests in Philadelphia due to an incident in one of its stores.  As CNN reports it, two African-American men initially initially asked to use the restroom inside the store “but were told the cafe’s bathrooms were for customers only. They then occupied a table without making a purchase, which many observers have noted is a common occurrence at the franchise’s locations.  A manager called police after the men declined to leave the premises because, they said, they were waiting for an acquaintance.”  Police then took the men out of the building, and the men were detained.

The incident has provoked outrage and resulted in a sit-in, other protests, and lots of criticism of Starbucks, and the manager who called the police is no longer working at the location in question.  Starbucks CEO has apologized, and Starbucks has announced that every one of its 8,000 stores in the U.S. will close the afternoon of May 29 to “conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores.”

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But this post isn’t about the unfortunate incident, the protests, or Starbucks’ response to the incident.  Instead, it’s about one picture taken during the protests, which appears at left — a photo of a Starbucks employee behind the counter at the store, wearing bright green Starbucks garb with “Zack” written on his apron, staring stolidly ahead while facing a protester with a bullhorn who is standing about three feet away.  That one picture, to me, aptly illustrates the lot of the working stiff.  Zack, the order-taking counter guy, isn’t the CEO of Starbucks, or the manager who made the decision to call the police, and we don’t know whether he was even in the store when the incident occurred.  But when things go south and the corporate crap hits the fan, it’s the little guys like Zack who show up for work and get sent out to face the music — and in this case, the bullhorn.

I’ve never had jobs where I had to deal with sit-ins and protesters using bullhorns, but I expect many of us have had jobs where we were the minimum-wage workers who had to deal with the red-faced customers who were angry about a decision we didn’t make.  And if you’ve had such a job, you suspect you know exactly what Zack was thinking at the moment the above photo was taken:  he’s thinking that the pay he’s getting just isn’t worth it, he’s wondering how long it is until his shift ends, and he’s trying to get to his mental happy place.  We’ve all been there.

And it also makes you wonder:  wouldn’t it be interesting to see how CEOs and high-level executives would deal with the bullhorn scenario?

“Celebrating” The Super Bowl

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl last night, and then the city of Philadelphia “celebrated” with a riot.

1226802Journalists listening to calls coming in on the Philadelphia police scanner heard about Christmas trees being set ablaze, drunken people climbing telephone poles, and marauding people roaming highways.  People flipped over cars, pulled down light poles and traffic lights, threw bottles, and destroyed property.  And, of course, people were injured in the melee, either from being assaulted by other rioters or by falling from the places where they shouldn’t have climbed in the first place.  For hours afterward, the victory in a football game turned downtown Philadelphia into a dangerous, violent place where the law and normal rules of behavior went out the window.

It’s an all-too-familiar story, where a sports victory causes a bunch of drunken fans to go crazy.  It’s happened before in Philadelphia, and in other American cities.  It’s not just an American phenomenon, either — it seems to happen with European soccer fans, too.

I can understand the impulse to go outside and be with fellow fans to celebrate your team’s big win, but I don’t get why, in many instances, the celebration suddenly turns violent and destructive.  I guess it’s just the influence of alcohol and drugs and fellow “celebrants” who are really just looking for an excuse to break things up and throw a few bottles, and a few punches.

At times like this I’m happy that Columbus doesn’t have a professional football team.

Pet Stop

It’s become increasingly common to see people traveling with pets these days.  Whether it is service dogs or dogs taken along for comfort or company, canines are a much more frequent sight on airport concourses than they used to be.

All of which leads to the question of what the pooches do when they feel the call of nature.  The Philadelphia airport answers the call with a small astroturfed area complete with retrieval bags and a bright red fire hydrant.  

Bad Choice

So the Democrats have picked Philadelphia as the site for their 2016 National Convention, selecting the City of Brotherly Love over the other two finalists — Columbus, Ohio and Brooklyn, New York.

Apparently Philadelphia’s role in American history tipped the balance.  According to the New York Times report, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz touched the Liberty Bell and said:  “In addition to their commitment to a seamless and safe convention, Philadelphia’s deep-rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”  Because both Columbus and Brooklyn presumably also were committed to having “a seamless and safe convention” — at least, you’d sure hope so — we can surmise that Philadelphia’s past role as site of the Constitutional Convention, home of Ben Franklin, and so forth was the deciding factor.

I’m a fan of Philly, but I think this is a bad choice — and not just because I’m a Columbus resident who hoped that both the Republican and Democrat conventions would be held in the Buckeye State in 2016.  The issue is whether you are forward-looking, or backward-looking.  It’s like the decision that was made years ago to change the location of the presidential inauguration ceremony from the east side of the Capitol building to the west side.  The east side had tradition, but the west side was spacious, with a vista spanning the Mall and its monuments.  The country’s future lay to the west, and moving the inauguration ceremony was a solid symbolic move — as well as allowing more space.

Which city best represents the future here?  Growing Columbus, with its bustling economy?  Diverse Brooklyn, which is constantly reinventing itself?  Or Philadelphia?

C’mon, Democrats, Come To Columbus!

The Democratic National Committee is trying to decide where to hold the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  According to reports, the finalists are Brooklyn, New York, Birmingham, Alabama, Phoenix, Arizona, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — and Columbus, Ohio. 

A few days ago Columbus city officials and civic leaders hosted a delegation from the DNC, trying to convince them to come to the capital city of the Buckeye State.  The tried to use crowds, reasoning, friendly signs and t-shirts, and a blue carpet to sway the DNC decision.  Given the audience, I think an appeal to naked political self-interest is far more likely to be effective.  So I say:

Democrats, you owe us — and you’re going to be here, anyway. 

DSC04160Ohio is the battleground state.  You pester us with polls, bombard us with ads, stop traffic for rallies, and hassle us in more ways than we can count in every election.  We put up with this crap in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012, and we’ve spent countless tax dollars on police protection and the other municipal services that the constant campaigning requires.  You owe us!  We’re entitled to have your delegates fly into our airport, book our hotel rooms, shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, visit the bigger-than-life statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and — not incidentally — pay all of the taxes that such activity generates.  Fill our coffers, baby!  We’re entitled to it!

You’re going to be here, anyway, so you’ll all save on travel expenses if you start out here.  You may as well get to know the good new restaurants, and the excellent new bars, because you’ll be returning again, and again, and again as the election draws near.  Contrast that with Brooklyn or Philly, which are solid blue, or Birmingham, which is redder than Red Square.  Phoenix is red, too — red hot.  Those places are locked down, one way or the other.  In contrast, Ohio is so deep purple that its residents might as well hum the opening chords of Smoke on the Water with every step.  Wouldn’t you like to have some friendly, and early, firsthand exposure to the swing voters who inevitably will decide the election?

One other thing:  the Republicans are holding their 2016 National Convention just up I-71, in Cleveland.  They know they need to win Ohio, and they’re pulling out all the stops.  Are you really going to dis us and give the Rs a leg up on raking all of our crucial electoral votes?  It’s time for the Party of Jefferson and Jackson to make the pilgrimage and put its money where its mouth will be during the fall of 2016.  You want to win Ohio?  You’d better come to Columbus.

Snow, Snow, Everywhere I Go

Kish and I traveled to Poughkeepsie today for Russell’s art show — more about that in a minute — but of course the weather interfered with our plans.  We were to fly to Philadelphia, and then to Newburgh, New York.  Our flight to Philadelphia went off as planned, but when we landed in the City of Brotherly Love the snow was cascading down and our flight to Newburgh was canceled.  The next flight was not for another 12 hours, trying to take the train would have involved a delay nearly as long, and we therefore rented a car to drive up to Poughkeepsie.  It was slow going as we passed through some near white-out conditions and snow-covered roads, but finally we arrived.  It is still snowing even as I type this.

I think I speak for everyone in the Midwest and Northeast when I say, Spring cannot get here soon enough.