Starbucks’ new Downtown Cincinnati walk-up window has given local coffee drinkers a fast new way to get their java. For some nearby shops, it’s meant a tough new jolt of competition.
Several shoppers checking out the new Starbucks at the Kroger said they could see making repeat visits.
“It’s nice not to have to worry about going in,” said Courtney Beck, a 25-year-old Downtown resident who works in Clifton, She said she drinks a lot of coffee, but doesn’t always want to fight crowds.
“I love it – I’m a Starbucks addict,” said Mary Heimert, a retiree who lives Downtown. “It makes it convenient. I don’t have to go inside and wait in line.”
While Kroger, which opened its new store on Sept. 25, has showcased its upstairs “food hall” populated with local restaurant operators, Starbucks officials said they hoped convenience would prove a special draw.
“Starbucks is always looking for locations to better meet the needs of our customers,” company officials said, adding the new Kroger location was a “custom design” for the small space and the outdoor walk-up window – a nationwide first among its licensed locations (Almost half of Starbucks’ 17,000 stores in the U.S. are licensed to other retailers or food services that own and operate them).
It’s just another Starbucks in America in a supermarket to most people, but it’s also an undisputed tough new competitor for new shop owners.
Across Court street is Kitty’s Coffee and a Dunkin’ Donuts. A block north, across Central Avenue, is Coffee Emporium. There are several other local coffee shops within walking distance, but at least three blocks away.
Gary Gabbard, co-owner of four Kitty’s Coffee shops, admitted the new Kroger store could hurt his Court Street shop.
“Big-name competition is tough on the little guy,” Gabbard said, who added he hoped the new Kroger store would draw enough new traffic to the area to blunt the impact.
The franchise owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts did not return messages seeking comment.
Gabbard noted most of the business on Court Street was “grab-and-go back to the office,” so both his shop with no seating and the Starbucks were directly competing. Part of his strategy is opening new locations: last month, Kitty’s opened its shop on the corner of Fourth and Elm streets.
“New locations help – the days of opening a shop and staying there until you retire are done,” Gabbard said.
While Kroger has been hailed as ushering in a new chapter of development and growth in a previously sluggish area of Downtown, it will affect some of the merchants that took a chance opening businesses years ago.
Across Central Parkway, Coffee Emporium co-owner Eileen Schwab expressed optimism the new Starbucks won’t be such a threat.
“I definitely don’t feel like Starbucks is the Death Star,” Schwab said.
While just a block away, that’s a good safe distance in a denser urban market. She added Central Parkway is also a busy buffer, dividing Downtown from her Over-The-Rhine shop. Further, with seating for dozens of patrons to lounge, eat and sip coffee, Coffee Emporium has cut a local niche as gathering and meeting spot.
Schwab may be right: Starbucks’ latest location with limited seating inside appears strictly set up for the convenience-minded customer.
“I’ve always been the destination location,” she said, referring to the Over-The-Rhine and Hyde Park store’s setup. She noted she already competes with nearby Starbucks at its suburban store. “We’re vibrant, we’re a coffee experience and it’s just alive. We’re where people get together.”
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