UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – The Village loses a “Third Place”

The first time I walked into the Starbucks at Belleview Square was in March of 2003, during the epic blizzard which left four feet of snow across the metro area. I’d flown into Denver the night before – my first ever trip to Colorado – to interview for a job at Cherry Creek High School. The English coordinator Steve Kascht let me know that after four days of snow, everything was closed except King Soopers and the local Starbucks, so that’s where we’d meet the school principal, Dr. Kathy Smith.

The buzz in the store that day was palpable, and not just because of the caffeine. People were emerging from days stuck at home, excitedly catching up with friends, sharing stories and updates from the storm clean up. As I interviewed for my job, Kathy’s daughter and several friends – all students at Creek – came into the store and stopped by our table. When Kathy needed to take a phone call and Steve went to refresh his coffee, I sat and chatted with the kids about what I do as a teacher. When Kathy returned and asked how it was going, her daughter looked at her and said, “Hire him, Mom.” 

Clearly, the local Starbucks is a rather special place for me, as it is for so many. From playing board games with my kids during winter breaks, drinking hot chocolate and peppermint mochas, to my Friday morning coffee walks with the admin team at Cherry Creek, to Thursday afternoons in the summer when the kids got ice cream and the adults sipped iced lattes on the patio, that store is a pretty special place. It’s a part of our community. And now, it’s being taken away.

The Creek community and Greenwood Village were dealt a serious blow last week when a sign appeared in the store window announcing Starbucks would permanently close on October 13. After more than two decades in the same location, one of the most stable, popular, and successful businesses in the area is closing. To patrons of the store, that makes no sense. According to a representative from Regency Centers, which is the property owner and landlord for Belleview Square, the lease was up, and the parties were unable to reach a deal. And so we lose a beloved “Third Place.”

The Third Place is a sociological term for social environments that are separate from the two primary places in most people’s lives, home and work. These social places are integral to a sense of community and civic engagement. They are gathering spaces for friends and families in the tradition of the public house, or pub, and since the time of the Enlightenment, the local coffee house has been an integral part of our society.

Writers like Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital (1995) and Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place (1989) stress the importance of these places to maintain civic ties and social engagement that contribute to a thriving society. In establishing what sociologists call a “sense of place,” gathering locations promote and cultivate a sense of belonging. 

In this regard, commercial property owners have a responsibility beyond simple commerce – they are stewards of the community. While I was not privy to the negotiations that failed, it seems fairly obvious Regency has failed its duty to the community of Greenwood Village and Cherry Creek. I can’t imagine after twenty-five years as loyal renters that Starbucks made unreasonable demands. In fact, word on the street is that Starbucks did not want to leave, but the landlord made staying untenable. I’ve heard from a third party that Starbucks confirmed they could not reach an agreement, indicating they “need to make a profit.”

Thus, I would not at all be surprised to learn Regency raised the rent beyond a reasonable rate simply because they can. A reasonable rate for a coffee shop, a business with a slim revenue margin, is a pretty obvious number. And after two-plus decades at that location, I’d think a stellar company like Starbucks knows its business. Ultimately, everyone loses in this case. Starbucks loses a prime location. Regency loses rent during the time the store is vacant. No other coffee shop will survive there if Starbucks can’t. So, the community can expect the space to turn over numerous times.

Empty storefronts are never good for a community, and this wound seems self-inflicted. I know as a member of the community, I would rather see Regency leave than Starbucks. 

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com