Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Local businesses

When I'm at Coe, and feel the need to get out of the office for a cup of coffee, the choice is obvious: Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse is just across 1st Avenue and offers an impressive selection of coffee as well as a nice atmosphere.

Starbucks doesn't tempt me, as the nearest of their stores is nearly four miles away. (The PUB in Coe's Union sells Starbucks Coffee, but that's a quite different type of place.) But what if the situation was reversed? What if Starbucks was right across the street, and the nearest local option was, say, Blue Strawberry downtown, which is over a mile from Coe?

My heart says go with the local business, defining Brewed Awakenings as "local" because its two stores are both in Cedar Rapids, and Starbucks as "national" because it is headquartered in Seattle and has zillions of stores all over the world. But are there some data to support my preference? I know, for example, that the Starbucks Corporation has been using much of the same international tax sheltering that Apple has been criticized for, but that distracts from the central question: Does it really matter which coffee place I choose? Or does it depend on the terms of franchising?

Changing the subject to ice cream highlights the conundrum. The closest ice cream place is Dairy Queen, located two blocks from Coe's campus. For awhile, following the same prejudice that leads me to choose against Starbucks, I traveled across town to the Kool Moo. Lately, we've been going to the Dairy Queen on 16th St NE. Laura and Todd Henderson, who own it, are great people who live two blocks from their store and are very active in the community. The people in line with me represent a cross-section of the city, and I often recognize people I know. Dairy Queen is a national brand, but the 16th Street Dairy Queen seems very local.

This Sunday's Gazette business section had an article noting that Cedar Rapids has a shortage of upscale retailers like Nordstrom's and Whole Foods. Is this bad? Our vibrant array of local coffee places flourishes because Starbucks was very late in moving in here. Could there be local businesses doing what Nordstrom's does? Would that be better for Cedar Rapids?

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