In Defense of Starbucks on Main Street

Disney California Adventure Starbucks

Disney California Adventure’s Starbucks. Sticks out like a sore thumb! 😉

We Disney fans like to complain. We like to make mountains out of molehills.

This is fine and understandable. I do it too. I think it’s in large part because we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about and discussing theme parks, which, comparatively speaking, don’t involve the same type of contentious issues as many other topics. So at times we concoct issues.

Now, I’m not attempting to flippantly dismiss the counter-point to my argument before I have even made my actual point. There are unquestionably valid concerns about the addition of Starbucks to the Disney theme parks, and I respect anyone who offers impassioned constructive criticism of Disney that is well-reasoned and thoughtful. This criticism doesn’t (necessarily) make anyone a Debbie Downer (or “foamer” as has become the internet parlance). Actually, I think these folks help draw attention to ill-conceived decisions by management that are only aimed at increasing short-term revenue at any cost. I certainly prefer this type of rational and critical thought over the conflicting polarized groups that, on one side say, “I’ll love anything that Disney does because it’s Disney and Disney is magical” and on the other side reacts to every proposed change as, “ruining the Disney name; not something Walt would want or would have done.”

The hostility towards Starbucks in the Main Street Bakery is a bit surprising to me at this point. It made sense before June 2012, but now? To me, it comes across as the ranting and raving of people who are not basing their opinions on available information and past precedent. I suspect a lot of people who are saddened by this news have not been to Fidler, Fifer, & Practical Cafe in Disney California Adventure or haven’t read any reviews of it. It’s a great counter service location that offers a variety of unique Disney foods in addition to its Starbucks items. It’s actually one of the best counter service restaurants in the park, and is decidedly “Disney” despite having a small Starbucks sign and some assorted logos inside the restaurant.

Based upon several of the comments I’ve read on Twitter, on the Disney Food Blog (AJ’s article itself presents a neutral and rational take–I’m talking about reader comments), and on forums, you’d think they’re removing the Main Street Bakery and “replacing” it with a regular ‘ole Starbucks from Anytown, USA. Disney has made clear how it will approach these locations in the past, and Fidler, Fifer, & Practical Cafe is evidence-enough that the locations are not simply Starbucks shops inserted into the parks. After all, unless I’m mistaken, “Fidler, Fifer, & Practical” is not some sort of obscure name Starbucks uses for its shops. It’s a Disney name on a Disney restaurant that has a strong Starbucks presence on the menu and a small “Starbucks” sign outside. Buena Vista Street has been widely praised for its attention to detail and excellent theming, and I can’t recall ever once reading (from someone who has been there) that Starbucks kills that, or in any way negatively impacts it.

Based upon information actually available and past precedent at Disney California Adventure, rather than wild worst-case-scenario prognostication, I suspect that the Main Street Bakery will largely reopen as the same restaurant (with the same name), and will now serve Starbucks coffee and a variety of other Starbucks items while still serving Disney items (update: Disney has confirmed that the Bakery will continue serving Disney food). Sure, some Disney items will be cut, and we all hope our respective favorites aren’t cut. Unless there’s some operational reason for popular items like the cinnamon roll and ice cream cookie sandwiches to be cut, I can’t see those items removing. Even if they do, it isn’t the end of the world. Other locations in the Magic Kingdom have both items.

The other argument that I see being made is that Starbucks is fine in the parks, but not on Main Street, USA, which is sacred and should remain free of commercialism. Setting aside the sacred hyperbole, I can kind of sympathize with this position. Since this announcement, my biggest hang-up has been the idea that Starbucks and Main Street are diametrically opposed. Main Street represents the quaint, small town charm and uniqueness of small mom and pop shops. With the exception of a few big box retailers, Starbucks is probably one of the retail establishments that has led to the most closings of this type of mom and pop shop. Have you ever seen the South Park “Gnomes” episode? You should; it speaks to this exact issue (plus has awesome business-minded underpants gnomes). However, at this point, this strife between Starbucks and the idea of Main Street can simply be filled under “irony,” and shouldn’t be an actual concern.

Over the years, Disney itself has done a great deal to undo the small town look and feel of Main Street. The Emporium is a generic “mall.” A variety of unique shops on the other side of the street are gone. The logos of big-business sponsors can be found up and down the street. While Starbucks would be the most noticeable of these, others are present. Starbucks is hardly the straw that will break the camel’s back with regard to Main Street’s theming or encroachment of the outside world. If you haven’t already noticed what has happened to Main Street, your indignation is misplaced.

If you still think this is the most egregious example of commercialism on Main Street, look above. That photo was taken at Disneyland. Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom. The park that, by most accounts, is the most sacred of the sacred. This is the Refreshment Corner (or “Coke Corner” as it’s known amongst fans), which has been Coca-Cola’s restaurant presence in the park since the 1950s. Actually take a look at those photos on that page from the 1950s. The Coca-Cola brand on the signage is highly visible, and the light fixture says Coca-Cola, and even the color scheme is Coke’s. Coca-Cola, one of the largest corporations in America…and it has existed on the original Main Street since the 1950s without ushering in any of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Overall, my point is that Starbucks coming to Main Street, USA likely won’t change the parks for the worse. You are certainly welcome to disagree, but before doing so (and this type of due diligence should be performed before criticizing any decision), do some research and learn about how the first Starbucks was implemented and how sponsors and other outside businesses have had presences in the parks. Starbucks is hardly trailblazing in the latter regard, and its previous implementation was incredibly tasteful and well done.

…All of this said, what do you think about Starbucks on Main Street? Am I attempting to defend the indefensible, or do you agree with me? Share your thoughts in the comments!


46 Responses to “In Defense of Starbucks on Main Street”
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