Everyone has their favorite Starbucks drink. Triple grande, whole milk, extra caramel, macchiatto. Double tall cappuccino, extra dry; grande, soy mocha with caramel, on top of whip.
A guilty pleasure; our pocketbooks’ weekly, sometimes daily, indulgence; and the slight addiction we all share. Not only have we embraced favorite drinks, food and music at our local Starbucks but we have also culturally assimilated to the Starbucks experience as “the gathering hole.” We occasionally grumble about the price point but we pay it and do so gladly, filling the coffers of the relatively young, U.S.-bred, worldwide corporate icon.
Well now, our love for all things Starbucks and “barista” will be a gift back to our community. Your mocha latte might help send a student to China or Africa or fund a tutor for an adult who is learning to read while looking for employment. Endless possibilities because Starbucks and the Los Angeles Urban League have created an unprecedented, innovative approach to uplift neighborhood change by entering into a profit-sharing agreement from sales at the Crenshaw and Coliseum Starbucks–right in the heart of South Los Angeles.
There is a great story here of the persistence and commitment for a tremendous community win-win that was formed in the aftermath of a collision of the public and private sectors.
In the summer of 2009, Starbucks decided to close one of its two stores on Crenshaw Blvd in South Los Angeles–the Vernon store. The decision to close what had become a neighborhood hub, did not sit well with community residents and resulted in a letter writing campaign and ultimately a dialogue between Blair H. Taylor, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League and Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks. Taylor spoke to Schultz and the leadership of Starbucks about the mission set forth by the coffee company of profitability along with community building and partnership by providing jobs in underserved areas, training young people to provide quality service and providing a safe and attractive area to convene.
The Vernon store closure raised a question about Starbucks sustained commitment to the neighborhood. Schultz and his team heard the issues raised and responded. Schultz made several trips to South Los Angeles visiting the League and the surrounding community including Crenshaw High School. He saw and more importantly, he listened. Schultz renewed Starbucks commitment to not only have stores in the community but also to be a part of the transformation and success of the historically underserved neighborhood in partnership with the League and residents.
Fast forward to today, December 2011. The new partnership created will not be the panacea for all the struggles in South Los Angeles. It is not a million dollar a year deal but it is a start. In the midst of the litany of repercussions from the economic downturn, if a poll was taken today of most South LA residents, there might be little hope expressed that revitalization was on the horizon any time soon for our neighborhoods. When a depression hits, already beleaguered, predominately minority neighborhoods are hit twice as hard as others with hemorrhaging unemployment, loss of health insurance, foreclosures, etc. The prevailing sentiment is that there is no plan for success and no architects for transforming urban distress in collaboration with concerned residents.
But there are forward-thinking champions of strategic change who are looking for new, different revenue streams for communities in need. Starbucks and LA Urban League will hopefully pave a path for successful business ingenuity that will be inspiration for other mega-corporate entities to try this or other revenue generating models to infuse critical funds and resources into this and other underserved neighborhoods.
And South LA residents have the opportunity to “own” the success of their local Starbucks’ ability to pump financial vitality into the neighborhood.
My Starbucks crave is not coffee; it is venti, Tazo Calm tea, one tea bag and a fruit & cheese plate. But this faithful customer will be at the Crenshaw and Coliseum store frequently as always and then more, with no guilt and with the very intentional privilege of indulging for the benefit of my community.
I’ll see you there. We can do this!
Chris Strudwick-Turner is Vice President of Marketing & Communications for the Los Angeles Urban League.