16 April 2014


Original Story: USAToday.com

DETROIT — A full-scale Starbucks shop opened Thursday in downtown Detroit, nearly six years after the Seattle-based coffee chain closed two downtown stores and another near Belle Isle, Mich.

The new Starbucks (SBUX) is on the ground floor of the Ernst & Young building at One Kennedy Square.

It features unique design elements for a Starbucks location, including a decorative wall with Detroit neighborhoods and street names and a map of the old Detroit United Railway. In addition, the store's male baristas are required to wear black ties.

The return of Starbucks to the downtown business district — a brand that for many signifies commerce and wealth — is yet another sign of a momentum of growth in the district once left for dead just five or six years ago as General Motors and Chrysler declared bankruptcy during the Great Recession.

It also amounts to an endorsement of downtown's future, which has seen an influx of new residents and workers the last several years since Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert moved his businesses to downtown and started purchasing buildings. It's estimated that greater downtown has added about 10,000 new workers over the last three or four years, many of them young upwardly mobile coffee drinkers.

"To have a Starbucks here that's been missing for so many years is just great," said Willie Kent, a native of Detroit and the new store's general manager.

The shop employs 15 people, takes Starbucks loyalty cards and is a licensed location with a different ownership structure than the sole corporate-owned Starbucks in the city's midtown. There are several smaller licensed Starbucks in the city.

Starbucks' absence offered an opportunity for other coffee shops to sprout downtown. One recent arrival was Roasting Plant, a New York-based coffeehouse company known for shooting coffee beans through pairs of clear pneumatic tubes.

Still, the return of a downtown Starbucks storefront was eagerly awaited. The opening was delayed by a day for final inspections.

"It's finally here," exclaimed Melissa Tipton, a downtown worker on a coffee break. "I've been waiting for months and I was kicking stuff when they weren't open yesterday."

The previous downtown locations were among the 600 that Starbucks closed in 2008.

A stand-alone Starbucks near Belle Isle also was closed at the time. That location had a drive-through window and often appeared busy. But it experienced multiple break-ins after business hours. The building later reopened as a Tim Hortons.

"It was a rough location, but the community still stood by it," said Kent, who was a manager there from 2002-04. "After hours, once the doors closed, it was a different story. But when it was open you couldn't tell if you were in downtown Birmingham or the middle of Detroit."

Basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson was once a franchise owner of more than 100 Starbucks stores, including at least three in metropolitan Detroit. He sold all of his remaining stores in 2010, according to news reports.

A Starbucks executive said the license for the new Detroit location is held by a group of individuals, whom the company declined to identify.

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