Philadelphians Push Back Against Plans to Open Starbucks in City Hall

“Building a freaking Starbucks in one of our parks is without a doubt crossing my line,” wrote one blogger.

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Feb 27 2019, 3:00pm

Photo via Flickr user chrisinphilly558

The last time the phrase “Philadelphia Starbucks” made national news, it referred to an incident last April in which two black men were removed from a Starbucks location in handcuffs by Philadelphia police officers, after waiting for a friend inside the Center City store. Video of the incident went viral, leading to protests, a public apology from the company, and the closure of 8,000 Starbucks stores for a one-day racial bias training. The incident didn’t give Starbucks the best name in Philly, a city that’s already full of more beloved local chains (i.e., Wawa) anyway.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Philadelphians aren’t happy about a new Starbucks slated for City Hall’s Dilworth Park. According to a press release, the move is part of a transformation of Dilworth Park from “from a desolate plaza at the foot of City Hall into a welcoming meeting place and first-class transit gateway visited by 30,000 people each day.” The location was announced last week and construction has already started. Some locals, however, aren’t having it; in conversations with CBS3, several Philadelphians told the station that they’d rather patronize something locally owned and that the city is already overrun by the chain.

City Hall, while no longer the tallest building in Philadelphia, remains a fixture of the city: it’s central, major roads wrap around it, and from it, you can see tourist spots like the Art Museum (or by its other name: the Rocky steps) and the LOVE statue. Because it’s so important to both locals and tourists, some Philadelphians think that City Hall is better off flanked by businesses with ties to Philly.

La Colombe, for example, is a growing but Philadelphia-based chain; the Starbucks in the works for City Hall would be in direct competition with one of its locations. (A barista from La Colombe told CBS3 that they don’t expect a huge sales dip, despite the Starbucks being literally across the street.) “I think if people really want to get to know Philadelphia, they should not be going to a Starbucks coffee,” one person told CBS3. “There’s a coffee shop across the street, La Colombe,” said another person. “This is not serving us.”

Conrad Benner, who founded the street art blog Streets Dept, sparked discourse online, too. Benner, an advocate of public space, took issue with the construction of a Starbucks in a public park, and put it on blast in both a blog post and on the blog's Instagram with 140,000 followers. To Benner, the private selling/leasing of public park land is a “money grab” that can be blamed on “bad leadership.” He added that a small public library, playground, or space for local artists would better serve the city. In the comments, most of Benner’s followers seemed to agree, writing responses like “Can we make this go away,” and “WHYYYYYYYYY????”

“Building a freaking Starbucks in one of our parks is without a doubt crossing my line,” Benner wrote on Streets Dept. “What incompetent officials at City Hall allowed Dilworth Park to be leased without strict rules against stuff like this? And what greed-fueled people at the Center City District thought this shit would fly?”

One might wonder, however, how the reaction would differ if the coffee chain in question were a Wawa.