The road to revitalization is a precarious one, and North Park has experienced its share of growing pains while traipsing the thin line between redevelopment and gentrification. It's hard to criticize one of the neighborhood's greatest accomplishments to date-refurbishment of the North Park Theatre-but a Starbucks that's moved into the project's prime retail space has prompted some opposition.
In May, Starbucks Corporation signed a 10-year lease, reportedly worth $705,840, for 1,700 square feet. The store is scheduled to open Sept. 30 and will be the coffee giant's first foray into an area known for its small, independently owned coffeehouses. It's a move critics of the company see as business as usual for Starbucks.
"Starbucks has a tendency to follow the direction of where a lot of coffee is sold," says Jay Turner, executive director of North Park Main Street, a nonprofit overseeing redevelopment in the business district surrounding 30th Street and University Avenue. "We are fortunate to be where a lot of smaller, independent coffee shops have developed a strong foothold. We've basically become San Diego's main coffee district."
Starbucks denies its strategy is to infiltrate coffee havens. "Starbucks believes there is room for many coffeehouses in the marketplace that can meet different customers' needs," says local Starbucks representative Montey Dunn. In a carefully crafted e-mailed response to CityBeat's questions, Dunn pointed out that Starbucks represents less than 7 percent of total coffee consumption in the U.S.
"We have seen time and time again that Starbucks can coexist with local stores," he said. "The presence of different coffeehouses helps to educate the consumer about specialty coffee and coffee overall. We should all encourage development from both small and large businesses that inject significant dollars into the local economy and remain committed to helping to maintain the neighborhood's uniqueness."
Turner says Starbucks isn't a threat to established businesses. "We knew Starbucks would eventually come in," he said, "and, quite frankly, they're late to the table.
"They basically are to coffee what McDonald's is to hamburgers. To place it in perspective, just because McDonald's opens up down the street, will your family quit making hamburgers?"
He added that the addition of Starbucks is in keeping with North Park Main Street's plan for the future, which is firmly rooted in its past.
"Historically, North Park had a healthy mixture of local and national businesses. Going back to the 1950s, JC Penney's was here. North Park was basically a second downtown. But, eventually, all the national businesses moved out and to the malls. We definitely want some of that back, and our vision of the neighborhood includes a healthy mix of both."
Others are far less optimistic.
"Having Starbucks all poised to come racing into North Park is-well, let me put it kindly and say it's not my first choice," says Elaine Boyd, a member of the Greater North Park Community Planning Committee.
"The community is not in support of Starbucks, either," she said. "During Springfest I staffed the Greater North Park Planning Committee booth, which featured a large writing tablet inviting unfiltered, unedited community input. One unsolicited comment we saw again and again was "No Starbucks.'
"Turns out, however, that community input [and] rejection, even in overwhelming numbers, is of zero concern to Starbucks. Just ask our friends in Ocean Beach."
Starbucks' Ocean Beach location has been a source of controversy since opening in 2001, and the store remains a regular magnet for vandalism and harassment. A recently opened Golden Hill location was spray-painted with the words, "Not welcome in our neighborhood." The North Park site was also splattered with a red, wax-like substance a few weeks ago.
Despite such direct action and a general grumbling in the community, Arnold G. "Bud" Fischer-the developer responsible for the theater's renovation and leasing the space to Starbucks-says he doesn't see it.
"What opposition?" he asked.
Vandalism, Fischer said, "occasionally happens anywhere Starbucks opens. It did no damage and washed right off."
Fischer said he's heard only positive things about Starbucks from the community-including the owners of the coffeehouse across the street. And regardless, developers can lease to whomever they wish, as long as they comply with zoning regulations, he said.
The coffeehouse across the street is Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge. Owner Claire Magner was unavailable for comment, and store employees refused to discuss Starbucks, but Caffe Calabria Coffee Roasters owner Arne Holt says he is gearing up for a fight.
"What can we do?" he says. "Starbucks has proved time and time again that you can't stop them. The neighborhood is changing and you can either bitch about it or get off your ass and start working to beat them.
"When it comes down to it, they aren't that hard to beat as far as the quality of coffee in the cup. They manage to put out a product that is consistently mediocre, and that's in some way impressive. They do so many things well that, in a sense, I try to learn from them."
The way Holt sees it, he'll probably lose some business to Starbucks, but he'll also gain new business from the new theater.
This isn't the first time Holt's encountered the double-edged sword of redevelopment. His business is located next to La Boheme, a condominium project near 30th and University currently under construction. Holt says he fears he's not protected from further development, and many in the neighborhood worry how the new residents will acclimate to North Park's urbanity.
"I view all of the new projects with cautious optimism," he said.
Turner says North Park Main Street is sympathetic to business owners' needs. The organization is currently pushing to "condominiumize" many North Park storefronts, allowing business owners to own the property they occupy, thus protecting them from skyrocketing leases. The organization also supports a big-box retail ordinance in the works that would help protect the neighborhood from a future Wal-Mart or Target.
The theater location is only the first of as many as four Starbucks stores slated to open in North Park. Developers have confirmed for CityBeat that they are working with Starbucks on new locations in the Renaissance development project on 30th Street and El Cajon Boulevard and as part of a Walgreens development at the corner of 32nd Street and University Avenue. CityBeat was unable to confirm a fourth rumored location, 30th Street and Howard Avenue, by press time.Starbucks spokesman Dunn was mum. "While Starbucks is always looking for opportunities to better serve our customers through new locations," he said, "we do not have firm plans to open additional locations in North Park at this time."