In Defense of Starbucks on Main Street
Starbucks coming to Main Street in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and in Disneyland has been met with fan ire. Predictably, as 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.
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. 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 social media, 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.
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.
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Do you agree or disagree with our take about Starbucks on Main Street? Are you a fan of in-park Starbucks locations, or wish they’d leave Main Street Bakery alone? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I’m not a coffee drinker, so I’m sure that influences my opinion, but I don’t like it simply because it changes the smell of Main Street! Before, it was sort of vanilla-ish and pleasant, it was the smell of Disneyland! Now it smells like coffee.
I’m thrilled. Finally, a decent cup of coffee in the Disney Parks. I don’t care who makes it. I just want a decent cup of coffee while I’m on vacation. It’s ridiculous to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation and not be able to get a single cup of decent coffee.
I was at the FF&P last August and it was a great location. The Starbucks sign on the window was small, the cups feature both the Starbucks logo and the Disney logo (very cute), there was only a very small section that had some bags of coffee and the total amount of Starbucks pastries fit on the top row of the pastry counter. The rest of the counter is full of Disney pastries. The restaurant is Disney themed to the period of Buena Vista Street. It doesn’t scream Starbucks when you walk inside. And, the lines were no worse than any other counter service restaurant. I live in Seattle, so I’m a fan of Starbucks, but I’m a bigger fan of the Disney “magic” and I was not bothered by the partnership at all. Now if they started putting a Starbucks on every street corner like in Seattle, I might think differently 🙂
Thanks, Tom, for being a great resource for all things Disney!
I was skeptical when I first heard about it but once I heard the facts I was excited about the addition! I am also a huge fan of coffee so I think this is a great partnership because WDW isn’t known for their coffee….sorry Nestle (I think).
Any who opposes a Starbucks in MK obviously never drank Nescafe. I’ll take the extra branding for a decent cup of (overpriced) coffee in the parks!
Thank you Tom for breathing fresh and rational air into an highly emotional debate.
I think the real issue is that Disney should be doing a better job with their own food and drink, instead of outsourcing it to other companies. With this case of coffee in the parks, Disney has a great opportunity to develop their own coffee brand into something real and interesting. Imagine great Disney service delivering their own great coffee and food. That would be a killer combination. Disney is a great brand which people associate with film, TV, theme parks, etc…why not food and drink as well?
The real loss is that Disney does not spend more time and resources developing their own food into becoming a destination on its own for guests. I really like much of their food, but I think much of it could be improved. Outsourcing the food and drink misses a great opportunity for Disney.
Somewhere in the distance I hear the crackle of the flames burning down It’s A Small World since they put those…dare I say it…Disney characters…in a Disney ride. 😉
I don’t have a dog in this fight because I’m not a coffee drinker and for good or bad, can’t remember ever getting something to eat in the bakery. It parallels the alcohol in the MK argument to some degree. It’s not like they put a Fat Tuesdays (or insert your favorite overindulgent adult beverage establishment here) in the middle of Fantasyland. What I’d prefer to see is Five Guys, Fuddrucker’s or even just wherever they get the burgers at Beaches and Cream take over the burger-making at the parks!
So, anyway, I’ll be just as likely to pass by it and think “Mmm, that smells good.” after it has Starbucks as I would have been in the past. If they hadn’t just refurbished the exterior of the place so nicely, I’d say there might be a slight reason for panic that the fairy tale might get fractured, but there isn’t, so why the (seeming) hysteria, especially with the DCA example?
I’m curious to hear what other corporate sponsorship there is on Main St. I was there 2yrs ago and I don’t remember any sponsorship but Coke. Unless Disney did such a great job of blending it in I didn’t pick up on it 🙂 But I feel that you can’t compare Coke as a sponsor to Starbucks. Coke was around in the early1900’s so it’s easy to blend them into the era. My concern is that Starbucks will pull me out of the fantasy that is the Main St set. I understand that WDW is a business and needs to make money, but it’s also providing an experience. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to mess with that for a coffee partnership.
That being said, if Disney can blend Starbucks in without it standing out like a sore thumb then I don’t see the problem. Just have to wait and see I guess.
I’ve come late to this tempest in a teapot (or I should say “tempest in a coffee cup”) but, nonetheless, here are my thoughts: (1) corporate sponsors have always been on Main Street, for better or worse; some of these work well with the time period and theming (Coca-Cola, as many have pointed out) and others less so–I remember when Sarah Lee’s monicker was plastered around the Main Street Bakery, which wasn’t so great. (2) Disney has lagged in providing a high quality cup of coffee to its guests, and Starbucks–though not my personal first choice of coffees–will solve this problem. (3) The fuss is really, more than anything, the result of miscommunication by Disney (a sin not easily excused in this day and age): Disney’s announcement made it sound like a Starbucks was opening on Main Street, U.S.A., when, in fact, what is happening is an appropriately-themed, refurbished Main Street Bakery is opening and will be carrying Starbucks products. Everybody wins (as long as beloved bakery staples also remain, and what possible reason could there be for them not to). Main Street maintains its thematic integrity. The parks continue the tradition set by Walt himself (this should make the conservative fan base happy, if nothing else) of prominently including corporate sponsors in the parks. Coffee drinkers finally get a decent cup of joe. Those who are upset by this have produced not one bit of rational evidence to support their misplaced outrage and merely continue to reinforce the idea that Disney fans are unthinkingly conventional. Heavy sigh.
I’ll start by saying that I think Disney has given us every indication that they would integrate Starbucks in an appropriate way – by past developments. And once complete, if they haven’t, guests will let them know and it will quickly evolve to a happy place.
In regards to the discussion, though, I do see the concern about “inappropriate” commercialism. I guess I don’t really overtly notice many corporate logos on Main Street. The Coca Cola case is a great one. It’s a natural fit for the period, so I’ve never really seen it as a sign of commercialism. If all these signs were changed to Pepsi, I’m certain there would be a lot more outrage. I’m not sure which other corporate signs exist, and if I don’t notice them either because they “fit” or if it’s because I’ve just seen them there my whole life. Depending on the answer to this question, Starbucks will work just fine for new visitors and over time it will become comfortable to Disney veterans as well.
And at least those who are not happy now will have a good cup of coffee to help with the transition.
PS we have grown up with coke since I was a kid……….Starbucks is something from the “new” generation.
Coke has been around a very long time and fits in with the era and persona of main street. (and I am not a youngster, so coke is what i grew up with)
I do not think Starbucks has a place on main street in WDW. I go there (and spend big bucks) to get away from it all. I do not want to be geeted by Starbucks as soon as I enter the park. I do agree there is a place for it but not on main street. It is completely wrong for the era that is being portrayed on main street. We are suppose to be taken back in time, and I don’t think we should seeing someone walk by with a starbucks fits in while you are listening to the barbershop quartet……….it is just wrong…….put it somewhere else…………what is next…..Wal Mart where the emporium is???????
Starbucks, hurray!!! Finally a decent cup of coffee at the greatest place on Earth. How can this possibly be a problem? Great article.