Proof that Starbucks is the new public utility: Panic erupts when it closes, even during a hurricane

Starbucks strategy: New Yorkers made the coffee retailer a last stop in their gathering of rations.
Starbucks strategy: New Yorkers made the coffee retailer a last stop in their gathering of rations.
Image: AP Photo / Ben Margot
We may earn a commission from links on this page. wanted New Yorkers to know about three closures as they prepped for the Hurricane Sandy: subways, schools, and Starbucks.

Yes, Starbucks. The coffee chain was among the three urgent bullet points listed on the site on Oct. 28 as a top notification; the site has been since updated.

Bad news come in threes, and this sealed it: Starbucks has became tantamount to a public utility. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising, given that there are 263 Starbucks shops in New York City, more than three times the number of New York public libraries (87). And given that the whole city has only 477 public restrooms, according to this crowdsourced map, it’s a fair assumption that Starbucks has more toilets than does NYC.

Indeed, people seem to feel a strong sense of entitlement when it comes to using Starbucks as library, toilet, storm shelter.

The company did suffer a few setbacks during the recession, with some 300 worldwide store closings in 2009. But it is seemingly invincible, with a projected growth of 18% this year.

Evidence of people’s  unnatural demands of Starbucks surfaced previously, amid reports that New Yorkers were becoming miffed at the chain, following the decision of a few of the busier New York locations to close their toilets to non-employees in 2011. An unnamed “source familiar with the company’s New York plans” told the New York Post, “Starbucks cannot be the public bathroom in the city anymore.” New Yorkers also grumbled after anecdotal claims that some Manhattan stores were making it harder to access their electrical outlets.

It’s a Herculean expectation to demand of a coffeeshop chain. Starbucks could not be reached for comment (or sympathy). News of its closure, though, was the proof some on Twitter needed to take the storm seriously. “Sandy is a venti-sized storm and we’re clearly in a latte of trouble,” said one. Others rushed to make a Starbucks run in their storm preparation (somewhere among the eggs, wine and flashlights).

What makes this  dependence even stranger is that Starbucks is not the predominant coffee chain in New York in terms of sheer numbers. As of this Nov. 1 Crain’s New York report, there are 466 Dunkin’ Donuts–that’s  77% more Dunkin’ Donuts than Starbucks. (Dunkin’ Donuts, based in Canton, Massachusetts–part of Sandy’s scope–wasn’t answering phones at headquarters either.) Dunkin’ Donuts followed suit with many (but not all) New York branches closing, but no one seemed to care.

The city runs on Dunkin Donuts, not Starbucks.
The city runs on Dunkin Donuts, not Starbucks.
Image: Crain's New York, Nov 1, 2011