Is closing stores the best solution to Starbucks’ safety concerns?

Photo: @angieyoyo via Twenty20
Jul 18, 2022

Starbucks, citing safety concerns, said it will permanently close 16 locations nationwide before the end of July while instituting new procedures to ensure the wellbeing of employees.

The locations include six each in Seattle and Los Angeles, two in Portland, and one each in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Workers can transfer to nearby cafes.

In a letter last week to employees, two Starbucks’ SVPs of operations, Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, wrote that staffers are “seeing first-hand the challenges facing our communities — personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use and more. With stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores, too. We read every incident report you file — it’s a lot.”

The letter stated stores may adjust formats, modify hours, close restrooms or close permanently “where safety in the third place is no longer possible.” More safety training, including when to call 911 and “active shooter” procedures, are planned. The letter read, “Simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don’t first feel safe at work.”

In a video of a company meeting, Howard Schultz, founder, criticized officials at the local, state and federal levels for failing to fight crime and address mental illness that he said were the catalysts for the closures. Specifically, Schultz called out drug use in store bathrooms.

“It has shocked me that one of the primary concerns that our retail partners have is their own personal safety,” said Mr. Schultz. “America has become unsafe.”

Mr. Schultz, who returned as interim CEO in April, has made safety a priority.

Employees at about 300 of Starbucks’ U.S. stores have filed to unionize since last December. Of the 16 set to close, two have unionized and another has petitioned to do so. Starbucks denied allegations that the closures are tied to unionization efforts.

Last week, 7-Eleven’s corporate headquarters encouraged local Los Angeles franchises to close after five armed robberies at locations in the area left two people dead. Last October, Walgreens closed five San Francisco stores frequently targeted by organized theft rings.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see Starbucks’ move to close 16 locations as likely a measured and necessary move, a political statement, an anti-unionization ploy or something else? What other options could Starbucks and other retailers explore for stores continually facing disruptive incidents?

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"This Starbucks news, on top of the 7-Eleven and Walgreens closings, is a sad reflection of our society today."

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24 Comments on "Is closing stores the best solution to Starbucks’ safety concerns?"

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Mark Ryski

I think Starbucks did the right thing by calling this out for what it is – a safety issue. Closing stores seems extreme, but the problems in these stores is acute, and so the move is understandable. As we have discussed in numerous posts, front-line staff and customer safety must come first — even if that ultimately means closing stores.

Neil Saunders

If retailers cannot operate safely in certain locations then they have a right to withdraw. However their exit will likely worsen conditions as it opens up vacancies, reduces customer choice and weakens the vitality of an area. The fault for this lies with the local governments and police whose primary duty it is to guarantee safety and ensure that law and order are enforced. When they don’t do that, they end up creating no-go areas which is a terrible outcome for all involved.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I take them at their word that it’s a safety issue. If the store is in an unsafe location, close it. If that upsets the locals, tell them to do something about safety – vote in better representation. If it’s a continuing problem in a small, contained area, store owners could chip in for private security – not as good as local police but perhaps it only needs to be effective for a short time before the criminals move on (treating the symptom, not the problem).

David Spear

If store safety procedures and collaboration with local law enforcement hasn’t revealed any improvement, then it’s the right decision to close the store. Executives must do everything they can to protect their workers and the shoppers who visit these stores, and I see this decision as a good move on Starbucks’ part. That said, it’s a sad day when any store has to close as a result of safety. This should not be happening in America.

Gary Sankary

Protecting their team members and customers has to be every retailer’s top priority. Starbucks is doing the right thing to close stores where safety can’t be guaranteed.

Ken Morris

Drug addiction and crime are, of course, serious problems. We’ve seen what is essentially looting and rampant shoplifting for quite some time. As for this move by Starbucks, are other coffee chains experiencing the same issues?

Starbucks claims they’re moving employees to other locations. But if we go with the de-unionization motive, why would they move a union employee to a non-union shop? Wouldn’t this risk inspiring non-union shops to unionize? One thing’s for sure, these store closings are news because Starbucks wants them to be news. Let’s all hope that life returns to at least semi-normal soon for retailers everywhere.

Trevor Sumner

Every retailer should feel fully comfortable opening and closing stores based on demographics, coverage, economic concerns and yes, crime and safety concerns. Is it unfortunate that we have such high-crime areas where Starbucks doesn’t feel comfortable having stores? Of course. At the same time, 16 out of 6,500 stores is just 0.25 percent, so let’s put it in perspective.

DeAnn Campbell

This is the first of many, many store closures across all sectors of retail that we are going to see happening for safety reasons. This is incredibly sad because retail is the chief driver of economic health at the community level and neighborhoods need safe, successful businesses in order to thrive. Starbucks did what they needed to do to protect their staff and their brand, but it does signal a bleak future for the communities who are unable to retain a healthy amount of retail businesses to generate employment and pay taxes and support local charities and services.

David Slavick

Starbucks is over-penetrated. The demand on staff in terms of scheduling coupled with safety concerns is a valid reason for their decisions. This is a sign of the times we live in.

Lee Peterson

Having worked in several “troubled” stores before, I can testify that many situations in environments like that (which thankfully they didn’t detail) are not only dangerous but can cause a lifetime of stressful memories, i.e.; PTSD. The decision to close the stores is the right one when the negative outweighs the positive, which is a sad thing for customers that love the product, but undoubtedly the best thing for the staff and even the reputation of the brand. When it gets to the point of having armed guards/security present just to do business, I’d say it’s just not worth it.

Dave Bruno

This Starbucks news, on top of the 7-Eleven and Walgreens closings, is a sad reflection of our society today. I sincerely hope local leaders can find answers to these problems at retail without resorting to closing stores. While losing a Starbucks is not critical to the health and stability of a community, it could portend more important retail losses, including grocery and drug stores, which would of course accelerate the downward spiral for a community.

Peter Charness

As a Portlander, my first-hand experience (on the unrepresentative sample of the one Starbucks I can walk to), is that Starbucks struggles to staff its stores anyways, and yes there are sadly enough locations in Portland that are not where I would want to see a few young baristas working alone. I concur with the decision. How sad is it that Portland has become a city where a coffee shop isn’t safe to work in?

Steve Montgomery

Starbucks and other companies closing locations may have multiple reasons for doing so, but I have no doubt that protecting their employees and customers is one of them. I was the president of a c-store company that had locations where the crime rates got to a point that I feared for our employees and customers, and I closed them. No amount of profits can make up for getting that call at 11 p.m. that one of your employees has been shot and died.

Rich Kizer

What else can they do, barring making their stores like a bank with outside drive-up windows, bullet proof of course, or stationing armed the guards inside the store. Tough situation.

David Naumann

Starbucks is doing the right thing by closing unsafe stores to protect the well-being of their employees. We recently moved from the Portland, OR area and I can attest to the declining state of downtown Portland. The streets are filled with tents, homeless people, and blatant drug use. We discontinued dining in Portland because of unenjoyable and unsafe conditions. It is sad to see some of our cities decline and local governments are just watching it happen.

George Anderson

I wonder if they considered converting these locations into order in advance and pickup-only stores before choosing to shut them down? They have opened these types of stores elsewhere.

Gene Detroyer

What a sad statement for our society!

Shep Hyken

These decisions are tough but, in the interest of safety, they are the right decisions. This should send a positive message to employees as well.

Ryan Mathews

If Howard Schultz is correct in assuming that “America has become unsafe,” and he is truly concerned with employee safety, then logically the right answer is to close or “harden” all the cafes. And he clearly isn’t prepared to do that. Presumably – again assuming his assessment is correct – there have to be more than 16 “dangerous” units. Since Schultz has explored a Presidential run in the past, one can never rule out this being a partially political move. Ditto with an anti-union strategy, at least as a short-term holding tactic. Or, it could be a good economic move, closing less profitable cafes without publicly admitting that certain geographies are overstored. Now, that said, there is no question that homelessness is a critical social problem in cities like Portland and LA, so retailers should be putting pressure on municipalities to enforce existing regulations, enact new legislation programs, and provide effective (emphasis on effective) solutions to issues including homelessness, mental healthcare, and addiction.

Bob Phibbs

I am sorry for DTLA. Starbucks made many feel that homelessness and drugs were abating and the areas were safe. With their withdrawal, it says the opposite. There is no good feeling about this but it makes the new Apple renovation of the Tower Theatre more an outlier than a harbinger of good things to come.

Mel Kleiman
Mel Kleiman
President, Humetrics
6 months 12 days ago

I will make a straightforward statement that I learned from working with companies in the oil patch, and I am putting it in capital letters: IF IT ISN’T SAFE, WE DON’T DO IT. There are no other options.

Craig Sundstrom

I consider it closing 16 stores — out of the “thousands of communities across the country” — to be a normal part of business operations … and not really worth commenting on.

Harley Feldman

I believe Starbucks is trying to protect its employees. Crime in these cities has gone up with little relief in sight. The customers likely do not want to go to those Starbucks any more, either. Unionization may be having some impact on the decisions, but employee and customer safety is the primary driver of the Starbucks decisions. Another option is to hire more store security, which may help the employees but will likely be seen by customers as the store being in a problem area. Another approach is to increase online sales (hard to do with coffee) and have them delivered by drone.

Brad Halverson

Many of these closings are in developing markets and neighborhoods, some on the fringe of commonly safe areas. This is not the first time Starbucks has taken a flier in new areas with expectations that crime will subside and greater investment will come in the area. But it doesn’t always pan out. Any maybe, just maybe, Starbucks is over stored.

Unfortunately, elected government officials have made things worse during the pandemic in allowing greater leeway to the prioritization of crime, and addressing drug use, often on the door steps of Starbucks.

If the government can’t or won’t do their part to protect all citizens using a business, including employees, then you can’t blame these companies for shutting down.

"This Starbucks news, on top of the 7-Eleven and Walgreens closings, is a sad reflection of our society today."

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