By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
After 17 years of unrelenting global expansion that has hooked caffeine fiends from Seattle to Seoul, Starbucks Corp. has, at last, penetrated one of the most remote corners of the retail world: Oak Cliff.
In what is certain to go down in Oak Cliff retailing history as the espresso shot heard 'round the world, company officials on March 9 opened a new Starbucks on Camp Wisdom Road, located just west of Highway 67 and across the street from the Southwest Center Mall.
The store is part of a joint venture, called Urban Coffee Opportunities, forged by Starbucks and Johnson Development Corp. (JDC), a company former NBA great Earvin "Magic" Johnson created as part of his effort to inject economic vitality into minority neighborhoods.
"Our neighbors truly embrace all of our locations throughout the country, allowing us to bring quality products and services, as well as job opportunities, to the Southern Dallas community," Johnson said in a written statement. "As a result, we are confident the Camp Wisdom Road location in Oak Cliff strengthens Starbucks' relationship with the Oak Cliff/Southern Dallas community and reinforces Starbucks as a positive work environment and a neighborhood gathering place for conversation and coffee."
After staking out territory in Dallas' southern sector, Starbucks officials quickly announced plans to expand into Israel, another regional trouble spot. As part of the effort, Starbucks has teamed up with the Delek Group, a publicly traded company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, to form a new joint venture called Shalom Coffee Co.
"Starbucks is excited about entering the Israeli market," Peter Maslen, president of Starbucks Coffee International, said in a statement to Business Wire. "We have a great partner in the Delek Group, who shares our commitment in bringing the Starbucks experience to Israel."
The new growth comes at a time when the Seattle-based coffee behemoth is bigger and more expensive than ever. On April 26, the company reported that its retail store sales increased 35 percent to $1.4 billion, while net earnings increased 40 percent to $81.2 million for the 26-week period ending April 1, 2001. The gains, attributed in part to the company's decision to implement a systemwide price increase in North America, prompted officials to increase the projected number of fiscal 2001 global store openings to 1,200, up from the previously targeted 1,100 new stores.
Indeed, the Israel and Oak Cliff penetrations come on the heels of success in other far-flung regions, most notably Korea and Japan. In December, Korea's Joongang Daily Newspaper named Starbucks the "Best Product of the Year." At the time of the award, Starbucks was operating 10 stores in Seoul, including the largest Starbucks store in the world--a five-story monster located in Myundong, the city's premier shopping district. A month later, the company announced it had opened up its 200th store in Japan--two months ahead of schedule.
"Japan represents our best performing international market, opening an average of two stores each week," Maslen said. "The market is already profitable, two years ahead of plans. We can expect to continue to accelerate our growth as we rapidly expand in the market with strong new store openings."
Back in the states, the company's arrival in Oak Cliff has been cautious, to say the least. The store's opening comes after two years of courting from Dallas City Councilwoman Laura Miller, who hoped to lure a freestanding Starbucks into her North Oak Cliff neighborhood. After winning a parallel campaign to ban roosters from the city's limits, Miller's efforts with Starbucks fell just short: The store is located in District 8, which is represented by James Fantroy. (Miller and Fantroy did not return calls seeking comment on the new store.)
Housed in an old Chinese restaurant, the store is unlike others in Dallas because it offers customers "drive-thru" service and a selection of locally made pastries. In other areas, the store operates like any Starbucks. There is the typical selection of Starbucks beans and Tazo teas for sale, as well as compilation CDs, politically correct corporate literature and versions of the Cranium board game.
"This is the closest one," says Josh Kuker, a nearby resident who was lounging inside the store on a recent Wednesday evening. "I've used the drive-through. It comes in handy."
The store has been open for nearly three months, but just last week Starbucks officials confirmed that they will celebrate the store's official grand opening on June 28. Their trepidation may not be without cause. Despite Johnson's involvement in the store, which is symbolized with a prominently placed photo of the hoops great hoisting a Starbucks cup to his smiling mug, Oak Cliff can be a prickly place when it comes to the subject of diversity.
Kuker, for one, says he doubts whether the joint venture can succeed in integrating Starbucks' upscale image (read: white) into the rough-and-tumble Cliff (read: minority).
"The service is not quite as good as other Starbucks. There's a ghetto mentality," Kuker says, adding, "When I have time, I'll drive down to the [Starbucks on] Carrier or Barnes & Noble. I just like the atmosphere there a lot more."
Fellow customer Steven Robert Jones says he had a similar reaction when he first discovered the store.
"Honestly I thought, 'Wow, ghetto Starbucks.' I don't mind, but Starbucks is supposed to be a ritzy-type thing," Jones says. "I hate to be negative, but I like the other Starbucks better."
While Jones says he enjoys the store's outdoor patio, customer Anna McWilliams says its proximity to Highway 67, not to mention the surrounding cluster of fast-food restaurants on Camp Wisdom Road, detracts from the atmosphere she has come to expect from Starbucks.
"This isn't a hangout-type Starbucks," says McWilliams, who adds that she still prefers the Starbucks in the Highland Park shopping village. "Here, by the highway, it's just not as relaxing."
Local Starbucks officials declined to provide any information about the store's early sales, but one report suggests that demand for its house coffee has been low--so low that employees are sometimes reluctant to keep a pot of the brew on hand. Oak Cliff resident Larry Lyons, husband of Dallas Observer Editor Julie Lyons, says he recently went to the store after dinner to buy a cup of the house brew, only to discover there was none made.
"Since Starbucks is all about coffee, I figured they'd have coffee," Lyons says. "But they didn't."