Starbucks took hold so quickly and opened stores in so many places so fast that we learned to characterize a place as with Starbucks or without it—as part of the stream of American life or far outside it.
As the ubiquitous green disk promised a decent—if expensive—cup of coffee, the Starbucks sign also became for its patrons a mythic symbol of community and belonging. And then, just like that, stores began to disappear. To understand what was happening, Bryant Simon traveled around the world visiting Starbucks after Starbucks after Starbucks. Probing beyond the trendy barristas, dozens of movie references, and millions of hits on Google, what Simon discovered about Starbucks can tell us a lot about America.
In an interview last week, Simon spoke to Public Radio’s Here and Now about his research and his book, Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks. Simon finds that while Starbucks at first seemed to fulfill desires for identity and culture, over time, “people aren’t seeing the same cultural values, and they go increasingly for utility, a place to sit, or just the quickest caffeine fix.” He discusses how the Starbucks brand is changing as consumers increasingly value the local, sustainable, and inexpensive.
Listen to the UC Press podcast with Bryant Simon: