Starbucks plans new downtown location with no restrooms or seats

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Starbucks is plans to open a new store in downtown Philadelphia that will be a drastically scaled-down facility for the national chain, after saying it was closing another downtown store over the summer, along with 15 others sites in the United States, citing safety concerns for employees.

At less than 1,600 square feet, the planned store at 1709 Chestnut will be for take-out only: It no public seating or public restrooms, depending on the rental agent involved in the deal.

“Starbucks is always looking for great locations to better serve our customers’ needs, and we are pleased to confirm that we will be opening a new Starbucks Pickup store in Philadelphia,” a company spokesperson said.

Larry Steinberg, a commercial leasing agent who worked with Starbucks on the new store, described the design as a departure from the norm for the Seattle-based chain.

“I’ve done a bunch of Starbucks leases and this is the first one they’re calling their new urban concept,” Steinberg said, senior general manager of the urban retail division of Colliers in Philadelphia.

With this new concept, “they avoid having to entertain the public and give them seats and bathrooms,” he said. “Then they don’t have to deal with any of those other issues.”

When Starbucks announced the closure of its 10th and Chestnut Streets location in July, along with 15 other stores on the West Coast and in Washington, D.C., the company said its baristas faced security issues and challenges broader societal challenges that “play out within our stores.”

The staff is “Seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities – personal safety, racism, lack of access to health care, growing mental health crisis, growing drug use,” read an open letter signed by Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelsen, senior vice presidents of US operations.

Starbucks, in the July letter, said it would consider adjusting store formats, furniture layout and opening hours, and using restroom occupancy sensors to ensure it could continue to offer a “safe, welcoming and friendly third place”.

The notion of “third place” aims to evoke a space of human interaction outside the home or the workplace. For decades, Starbucks has traded on this concept, providing public Wi-Fi, plentiful tables, restrooms and, until 2019, printed newspapers.

But drug use in Starbucks’ 10th and Chestnut restrooms, and other nearby businesses, was a problem, the downtown district business group chief told The Inquirer in July.

“They closed [the 10th and Chestnut location] because they are tired of needles in their bathroom,” Steinberg said.

Starbucks had created an open restroom policy after an incident at a Philadelphia store generated national headlines and allegations of racial discrimination.

In 2018, two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested before meeting an acquaintance at a Starbucks store at 18th and Spruce. The two men hadn’t bought anything in the meantime, and a manager called the police. The ensuing scandal prompted a company-wide apology tour and anti-racism training.

The upcoming new store model at 1709 Chestnut would seem to minimize interactions with the public overall.

“Their heart is selling you coffee and pastries and that’s it,” Steinberg said of the new location style.

This story was updated when Starbucks sent a comment after posting.

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