For Schultz, this mainstream customer base was both a boon and a curse. In Pour Your Heart Into It, his 1997 account of Starbucks’ rise to global behemoth, he reveals a preoccupation with authenticity that echoed Kurt Cobain’s. In 1989, he initially balked at providing non-fat milk for customers—it wasn’t how the Italians did it. When word trickled up to him that rival stores in Santa Monica were doing big business in the summer months selling blended iced coffee drinks, he initially dismissed the idea as something that “sounded more like a fast-food shake than something a true coffee lover would enjoy.”
Eventually, Schultz relented. And really, what greater punk-rock middle finger is there to purist prescriptions about what constitutes a true coffee drink than a blended ice beverage flavored with Pumpkin Spice powder? . . .
In reality, the chain’s customers have played a substantial role in determining the Starbucks experience. They asked for non-fat milk, and they got it. They asked for Frappuccino, and they got it. What they haven’t been so interested in is Starbucks’ efforts to carry on the European coffeehouse tradition of creative interaction and spirited public discourse.
Over the years, Starbucks has tried various ways to foster an intellectual environment. In 1996 it tried selling a paper version of Slate and failed. In 1999 it introduced its own magazine, Joe. “Life is interesting. Discuss,” its tagline encouraged, but whatever discussions Joe prompted could sustain only three issues. In 2000 Starbucks opened Circadia, an upscale venue in San Francisco that Fortune described as an attempt to “resurrect the feel of the 1960s coffee shops of Greenwich Village.” The poetry readings didn’t work because customers weren’t sure if they were allowed to chat during the proceedings. The majority of Starbucks patrons, it seems, are happy to leave the European coffeehouse tradition to other retailers.
Third of all, at Christmas, people spend a lot of time and money on getting together with other people to eat and celebrate together. This is one of the healthiest things in the world to spend time and money on. Again, people complain about the stress of putting together nice Christmas events. But I would argue that love is usually costly- it isn’t easy to love well. And there is nothing unspiritual about good hospitality and great times of being connected to friends and family. As far as all the commercial accouterments- well, it’s America. I would simply suggest that attacking Christmas is attacking consumerism in the wrong place. People dump tons of money on themselves ALL the time. Christmas is the one shot we get at encouraging people to spend money to show love to other people and spend time being connected to the people that matter most. If that means I have to listen to the Chipmunks Christmas album at the grocery store in October, so be it.
[T]here is a whole ideology of choice and freedom and autonomy, and . . . if one pays due attention, these ideals start to seem less like a bubbling up of the unfettered Self and more like something that is urged upon us. This becomes most clear in advertising, where Choice and Freedom and A World Without Limits and Master the Possibilities and all the other heady existentialist slogans of the consumerist Self are invoked with such repetitive urgency that they come to resemble a disciplinary system. Somehow, self-realization and freedom always entail buying something new, never conserving something old.
Without consumers to lead the charge, an economic recovery will be hard to achieve. And yet everyone agrees that we need to start saving more. So should I buy that coffee maker to stimulate the economy? Or should I save the money in order to “grow” the economy and provide for my own old age? I can’t do both. . . .
So what do we do? The nearest thing to an actual plan seems to be something like this: stimulate first, to avert various short-term disasters, and then — at some signal from the Treasury Department — turn around and start saving like mad, to avert various long-term disasters. In other words, we need to get back our consumer confidence, and then lose it again.