There is another Starbucks opening near my Parisian flat. I think that within a 1km radius of my apartment there must be, let’s see, 3 and soon 4 Starbucks (Fbg Poissoniere and Fbg Montmartre, Sentier and the new one coming at Cadet). Within a 2km radius, there are at least another 7 (Haussman, Montorgeuil, Opera, and the 4 at/near Gare St. Lazare) perhaps more. Now, that’s a lot of Starbucks.
In fact, they showed up here only about 2004. For almost a year, they just kept an office near La Defense and studied both franchise law and real estate in Paris. It wasn’t until about 2005 that the stores started popping up like mushrooms. And going away too. They apparently were experimenting a bit in my neighborhood because about 3 years ago there was a Starbucks on every block of the Grands Boulevards between Faubourg Poissoniere and Faubourg Montmartre. The one in the middle was removed but two remain. Suddenly, they went from zero to about 20ish stores and now they are up to 46 (soon 47).
Starbucks has been, since 2005 anyway, an important American oasis here in Frogland where I can get a taste of America relatively easily and it is at least nominally not disgusting and unhealthy like McDs. That being said, if one considers that caffeine is not exactly benign and that the milk and cream in the Frap’ drinks and lattes are just as fattening, then who am I kidding, right? Well, back when my wife was pregnant for the first time (late 2006 and early 2007), it was just before the smoking laws came into effect (smoking was finally banished from cafés on 1 January, 2008 as I recall) and Starbucks was the only non-smoking haven in the city where I could get coffee, my wife could have a tea and we could just hang. Perhaps we just got addicted but we are still there probably three to five times per month. I buy my coffee grains there due to their more reasonable hours (a local coffee bean store near my flat isn’t open on – get this – Saturdays, yep, the French are beyond explanation sometimes).
Shouldn’t I be put off by the mega-commercialism of this chain restaurant and its overpriced coffee? Probably. But then an American restaurant owner I know mentioned some years back how there are two kinds of coffee beans: robust (the acrid, acidic type) and arabica (the fuller tasting one) with the second being three times more expensive than the first. He said that many, many Parisian cafés cheat by advertising arabica coffee beans but that in reality the cut the arabica with robusto to raise profitability at the expense of taste. Having had one too many acidic, undrinkable javas in this town, I agree that too often, you get what tastes like the bottom of the coffee jar. So, for better or for worse, at least I know at Starbucks exactly what the taste will be like and that it will never turn my stomach in somersaults.
Last Starbucks observation for tonight, they seem to have an uncommon co-location next to that other American behemoth of fast food: McDonald’s. At many locations, there is a McDo’s within 50 meters of the Starbucks: the one next to the Rex has a McD’s across the street, the one near Fbg Montmartre has a McDos three stores down, and the new one at Cadet is two stores down. Is this just coincidence or a function of foot traffic or uncanny luck or are they working together to push out local businesses? In the case of the new one, there was a crappy hairstylist called Shampoo which seemed to be terminally empty before it went under so perhaps that last theory is far-fetched. It just seems a little funny that there is nearly always a McDs close. Well, OK there are exceptions like the one on Temple and the one on Montorgeuil but still, it is pretty frequent.