It would be hard to find a Starbucks cafe that is more beloved than the one at South Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue South.
The Central District shop is almost constantly packed with community groups and regulars sipping coffee while hashing out their latest thoughts and plans.
Starbucks hopes to capitalize on that success by turning the shop into its fifth so-called “community store.” That means the company will share a portion of the shop’s sales with a nearby nonprofit, the YWCA’s GirlsFirst and Young Parent programs.
Those programs, in turn, will use the store as a platform for their message — and, Starbucks hopes, attract even more customers.
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It is part of a “shared value” initiative in which Starbucks tries to do good at a time when the government is cutting funding for the types of social services the community stores support.
Starbucks said it will contribute 15 cents from each transaction to the YWCA programs in Seattle, and expects a total of about $100,000 for the first year. Those programs have an annual combined budget of about $500,000.
The money comes to an area in the geographic heart of Seattle and, for decades, the city’s African-American community.
Although the neighborhood’s demographics are changing, the corner of 23rd and Jackson remains ethnically and economically diverse.
On a typical afternoon, Ethiopian women wearing headscarves wait for the bus on the sidewalk outside Starbucks. On a tall building behind the nearby AutoZone, a sign reads, “Institute of Cosmetology, Bringing Beauty Back to the Community.”
Groups of men congregate at tables outside the cafe, while a quiet Hummer and a music-thumping sedan cruise the parking lot looking for spaces.
Students from nearby Garfield High School drop by on their way to and from school.
Plans for many more
Starbucks’ community-store concept started in 2011 and has gone well enough that the chain plans to open 45 more over the next five years.
Other quick-serve chains have tried various approaches to local revenue-sharing, with mixed results.
Panera Bread recently stopped a program in St. Louis that let customers pay what they wanted for turkey chili. It was intended to raise awareness of hunger, but some say it confused customers instead.
Ben and Jerry’s has partnered with nonprofits to run a few of its ice-cream shops, but there are only four “partnershops” in a program that began in 1987. The company is “evaluating a possible community-partnership program that would allow for local youth-development organizations to partner with local scoop shops,” said spokesman Sean Greenwood.
When most companies try to do good, they work on it peripherally — even superficially — rather than tying their futures closely to those of their communities, according to a 2011 Harvard Business Review article.
They need to recognize that societal problems hurt their bottom lines, the authors argued.
Starbucks’ last community-store concept was with Magic Johnson in the 2000s, when Johnson’s business ran cafes in underserved neighborhoods. The goal was to create economic opportunity and a stronger sense of community. (Some people mistakenly think the 23rd and Jackson shop was part of Magic Johnson’s group.)
Starbucks executives say the latest concept runs deeper, largely because it has partnered with local nonprofits.
The company’s other community stores are in Harlem, Los Angeles, Houston and Bangkok, Thailand.
Starbucks’ nonprofit partner in Houston is the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA), which runs programs ranging from a charter school to services for teenage parents and people with addictions.
It has lost at least $700,000 in government funding over the past three years, said Beatrice Garza, its president and CEO.
“It’s critical that businesses support us,” she said.
AAMA’s programs help people who are the area’s future workforce and whose well-being is critical
“if we’re going to be a successful community and city,” she said.
For community groups, the partnership with Starbucks goes beyond money.
AAMA educates the cafe’s workers and customers about what it does, and holds staff meetings and student activities there.
This week Starbucks employees helped paint AAMA’s classrooms.
“Customers can say, ‘Can I participate?’ ” and ‘Where is AAMA, and who is that?’ ” Garza said.
Remodel in the works
In Seattle, Starbucks chose the YWCA’s girls and young-parent programs in part because they are in the Central District — although with the area’s gentrification, more and more of the people receiving services are busing there from neighborhoods to the south.
Starbucks also sees the programs as “disruptive to the cycle of poverty,” said Rodney Hines, the chain’s director of community investments.
The GirlsFirst program offers girls of color after-school activities, summer leadership training, mentoring and internships (including at Starbucks). The Young Parent Program helps people find permanent housing and offers parenting classes, GED tutoring and employment-skills training.
Patricia Hayden, senior director of the programs, said the partnership will help the YWCA increase awareness of the needs of girls of color and young parents. It will have a bulletin board in the store, and hold meetings and activities there.
Turning the 16-year-old cafe into a community store will include a remodel.
A few weeks ago, Starbucks’ design team held a meeting at the store to ask for ideas from regular customers and community leaders including musicians, the principal of a nearby elementary school and former Mayor Norm Rice.
They discussed what should become of a brightly colored mural that is a tribute to music in the Central District. (Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson grew up here.)
Starbucks designers were surprised at how willing people were to move the mural, which the store is known for. They plan to preserve it in some fashion.
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @AllisonSeattle.