In this hot summer day, there is no place better than my favorite Newark coffee shop, where my children and I can spend hours reading in cool air and refreshing aromas. We keep getting distracted, pleasantly. On the next table, six deaf people are “talking” all at once, with 12 excited hands waving in the air. On the other side, an old couples and their grandson are enthusiastically eating crispy Cuban sandwiches and fried codfish balls.
The lunch crowd is filing in from different directions. My 9-year-old daughter comments on uniformed nurses, muscular brick workers, and a few regular old Irishmen chatting furtively, “Dad, these are real people!” Two small TV screens are silently showing a fierce soccer match. There is no soft Jazz of urban sophistication in an upscale atmosphere that entices customers to pay $4 for their daily caffeine fix. In fact, even after a few years, I still pronounce my coffee order of $1.50 sheepishly: G-A-L-A-O.
Café Caffe of 274 Chestnut Street is not closing, even without our mayor offering help of city incentives, like he promised to the closing of Starbucks at 744 Broad Street. As CBS reported, the decision by Starbucks to close 600 stores nationwide has hit this Newark location especially hard. After the recent closure of Old Navy and Kinko’s, both around the premier spot in the city’s heart, people responded angrily on losing this window of a ubiquitous coffee chain.
It is hard to swallow the grief of being deprived of the corporate seal of approval for the long cheered revitalization. “Yes, you have invested over $300 million on the brand new arena. Yes, the long-waited multimillion dollar Broad Street beautification project is about to be completed. But you are not good enough yet,” the corporate world said loudly. In fact, for decades, Newarkers have been ridiculed by the rest of the world, particularly by the affluent Jersey suburbanites, who find it hard to lose the symbol of all social illness and political corruption.
The outgoing President of Starbucks, Jim Alling, proudly called his people “the little-pick-uppers.” He said, “We just naturally stop down to pick up that gum wrapper or soda can on the sidewalk as we’re talking with you about how the kids are doing and what crazy weather we are having….” Blah, blah, blah… He quickly added, “Profitability is essential to our future success.”
Obviously, Starbucks, or any corporate big name, is made by neither an altruistic Mother Teresa, nor a paternalist Federal government. In Starbucks’ case, it goes as far as to declare “diversity” one of its guiding principles, and to hire Magic Johnson as its representative. However, a casual google of “Starbucks Gary Indiana” will find nothing but ten shops in the surrounding area. Similarly here, except its inner cities, New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of the latte chain shops, as well as almost all brand-name retailers, in the nation.
Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University, who is writing a book about the coffee chain, observed the lone Starbucks in Harlem in 2006. The dingy store was busy and cramped and lacked the usual niceties like upholstered furniture. “It’s a classic American story,” he said, “African-Americans get less of everything.”
My take, however, can be a little different. God designates Newarkers a totally different path. We, ordinary citizens, political leaders, and city planners, should have listened to the corporate voice more clearly. If the city does not deserve “Main Street” services, Newark should just as well block those fast food brand-names, like Southern Californian cities are doing.
We need some heavy-lifters, not “little-pick-uppers,” no matter what they pick up. After all, we have our own successful stories. Next to Café Caffe, there is a new copy shop, PrintPost. Arthur Stern, the owner of 744 Broad Street, can easily refill the space of Kinko’s and Starbucks with the much superior pair of Chestnut Street shops. Our mayor will save some city money and trips to trade shows in Las Vegas to lure brand names.
No Logo in a prosperous Newark, would that be cool?