Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Are You Afraid of Starbucks?

The Washington Post reports on some Annapolis, Maryland residents' fear of Starbucks:

Controversy Brews in Downtown Annapolis
Proposal for Starbucks in Historic Building Gives Some Preservationists a Jolt

The King of France Tavern opened in 1784, when Annapolis served as the nation's capital, and has hosted generations of lawmakers ever since. Legend has it that a secret tunnel still leads from the tavern's wine cellar to the State House, an ancient escape route for heads of state.

Now the old tavern is about to be reinvented: as the Annapolis area's sixth Starbucks.

The prospect of bringing the ubiquitous coffee retailer to the basement of the Maryland Inn, which has operated continuously at Church Circle since 1780, has some residents and town stewards dismayed.

Not prepared to put their money into an alternative project, just "dismayed."

But Starbucks has influential supporters in town, including the president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, who say the tavern could suffer far worse indignities than housing a coffee shop.

"It strikes me as kind of a historically appropriate use for the place," said Greg Stiverson, the foundation president. "Coffeehouses were very popular in Annapolis and other 18th-century cities, both here and in England. They were a gathering place, and that's basically what this Starbucks is planned to be."

Starbucks, he said, "seems much more appropriate than, say, a mini-mart."


City leaders don't actually have much say about who rents the empty space, which was occupied by the old tavern until 2003. The choice is the inn owners', so long as they conform to the city code, zoning rules and architectural concerns that govern the historic district...

Any alteration to the exterior of a building in the historic district must go before the town's seven-member Historic Preservation Commission, a group that is notoriously picky about such things as corporate logos and garish displays. With Starbucks, concern centers on the circular sign, 36 inches in diameter, that would hang outside the inn. It would bear the company's familiar green-and-black logo, a beacon to the Starbucks faithful.


In notes submitted to the historic commission, consulting architect C. Richard Bierce declared the sign "too large" and quite out of proportion with the "scale and refinement" of the architectural setting. Inn owners may be asked to shrink the sign or replace it with something more historically fitting.

That seems fair. If the old imperial cities of Europe have found a way to fit in McDonald's, Annapolis can handle Starbucks (see my photos of McDonald's signs in Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Prague).

Both the inn owners and the Starbucks company say they intend to preserve the exposed brick and stone walls, wooden rafters and low-slung brick archway that give the shuttered King of France an ambience reminiscent of Tolkien's Middle Earth.


Another Starbucks is already located at the City Dock, a few blocks away. Ben and Jerry's, White House Black Market and Subway also have spots in the historic corridor, where high rents and cramped spaces deter many chains. The Gap, Banana Republic and Burger King have come and gone.

No one drove the stores away. But no one seems to miss them much, either.

"When you come down here," said Stacey Garland, "you expect to find specialty stores, not the places you'd find in the mall."

Attitudes like that are what cause visitors like myself to visit the city briefly, but then retreat to the suburbs for lunch. Some people aren't wealthy or pretentious enough for "specialty stores."

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1 comment:

April said...

When I had to go out there for work we ate at the Subway at the other end of the block from the Inn. I didn't think that was so horrible.