Initial reactions to Williamsburg's first Starbucks, which opened on the ground floor of a luxury Karl Fischer rental building on Monday, ranged from "frightened" to "f*ck!" to "the neighborhood's over, it's like we lost sight of our mission." That last quote comes from a Bed-Stuy man who used to live in Williamsburg, presumably when Rubulad was on South 5th Street and Kokie's served cocaine and Kyp Malone made delicious, moody lattes at Verb. That wasn't so long ago was it? Yeah, actually, it was.
Anyone who thinks a Starbucks opening in Williamsburg is significant—a symbol of a once-bohemian conclave being invaded by the corporate-casual bourgeoisie—hasn't been to Williamsburg in a while. The neighborhood passed that threshold from DIY bohemia into generic, "this could be anywhere" corporate chain conformity years ago.
Yes, there was a time when you could rally behind performance activist Rev. Billy's protests against an imminent Starbucks. That time was the early aughts, when an earnest demonstration was held outside a rumored Starbucks location at the corner of North 5th and Bedford. Everyone was up in arms, although it turned out to be the perfectly innocent and delicious Fabiane's Pastry and Cafe.
It was the Bloomberg-era rezoning from manufacturing to residential that opened the floodgates, bringing high-income residents to Miami-esque apartment towers on the East River. And once the financial crisis of 2008 was in the rear-view mirror it was full speed ahead to Douchemsburg. As Jefftown champion Rebecca Fishbein succinctly put it when the news broke last year, "A Starbucks is coming to Williamsburg, not that it even matters anymore."
Believe it or not, some people have the means to pay $2,500 a month rent for a studio apartment in a luxury building in Williamsburg, and there's just no stopping them. These... people also have expendable income—weird, right?—which, it goes without saying, is responsible for the explosion of upscale boutiques and space-age hair salons and spin classrooms and velvet-roped nightclubs and luxuriant hotels and $17 cocktail lounges and artisanal foraging restaurants and carve-your-own bowling ball emporiums that are not-so-suddenly ubiquitous all they way from Broadway to McCarren Park. Williamsburg is fancy now, News at Fucking 11.
To be sure, Starbucks is a sinister parasite sucking the soul out of the formerly unique and precious Coffeshop Experience, but Williamsburg's spirit of community is pretty much sucked dry anyway. Here comes J. Crew. A Whole Foods is under construction. A Duane Reade opened up across the street from the locally-owned Kings Pharmacy, and now Kings Pharmacy is gone. (The owner assures us skyrocketing rents, not competition from Duane Reade, is the reason they closed.) Urban Outfitters has a new megastore steps from the Bedford L stop. What are we missing? An Apple store, probably.
What would be news would be if the Starbucks can't stay afloat here, but that's inconceivable. Williamsburg, like many upscale NYC neighborhoods, is increasingly enshrouded in a distinctly suburban pall. It's a temporary mating ground for post-collegiate burghers who'll inevitably resettle up in Scarsdale, handing over the keys to their overpriced apartments to the next generation of matriculating vampires. Starbucks fits right in here in Williamsburg 2014, possibly even more so than Trash Bar at this point. And it will continue like this until The Whole Thing tanks again. Then we'll dance around giant bonfires on the roof of The Edge, roasting Trust Fund babies to a crispy golden brown. Try Sebastian's toes with a little dash of Habanero sauce!
Should local independent coffeeshops, like The West, be worried? Given the increasingly high population density in Williamsburg, it would seem there's room for multiple caffeine pushers. Sarah Madges, who manages The West, doesn't seem to be sweating it; she tells Newsweek, "People who want a sugary, milkshake-like drink always have gone to places like that. People who want real coffee are going to still come to places like us or other places in the neighborhood that serve manually pulled espresso shots as opposed to burnt-tasting, automatically produced, not-very-good coffee." At this point, local coffeshop owners should be more concerned about relentlessly rising rents than competition from Starbucks.
So drink your Starbucks you fucking tools. We're ceding Williamsburg to you and Verboten's B&T patrons. The point is it doesn't matter—anyone upset by the Starbucks, at this point, is confusing an idea with a place. It's easy to roll your eyes at that former Williamsburg resident who lamented the neighborhood losing sight of its "mission," but we get what he's saying. Part of what made the idea of a place like Williamsburg exciting was that it presented, briefly, an alternative to the dominant culture, a temporary autonomous zone where we made our own fun. These pockets of counterculture are thrilling, but they never stay in one place too long; they mutate and die and reincarnate wherever enough like-minded people create them. Somewhere out beyond the mysterious corn fields of Quooklyn.
Back in 2006, just before I moved from the East Village to Williamsburg's Southside, I interviewed Ian MacKaye. The East Village had become unbearably fratastic, and the closing of CBGB seemed to symbolize this. I asked MacKaye how he felt about CBGB closing, and he said, "It’s just a place. I’m glad that people have tipped their hat to the significance of that music but if they really want to honor a place like CBGB they should be looking out for the little rooms where incredible music is being made right now."