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East Village Coffee Shop The Bean Makes Way for Starbucks

By Patrick Hedlund | September 19, 2011 3:09pm

EAST VILLAGE  — Longtime local coffee shop The Bean bid farewell to its decade-old location on First Avenue Monday as neighbors gathered to sip one final cup of Joe before the beloved brewer departs to to make way for an incoming Starbucks.

The 10-year-old café and de facto community space, which built a loyal following through the years, is relocating to another storefront on East Second Street, a block south, after Starbucks inked a deal to take over the East Third Street space.

Owners Ike Escava and Sammy Cohen mingled with patrons Monday morning as workers began removing items from the space, providing a bittersweet scene for the coffee shop’s regular customers.

“I’m heartbroken because I love it,” said Laraine Goodman, in her early 60s, who lives on East Fourth Street and has been coming to The Bean since it opened. “This one has a soul. It has a real community, neighborhood vibe.”

The news of Starbucks taking over the corner space was not greeted well by many locals, who blamed the java giant for pushing out the little guy.

However, a Starbucks spokesman stated that the building’s owner actively marketed the address to the Seattle-based chain — which has close to 200 locations in Manhattan alone — after the state seized the property earlier this year for failing to pay back taxes.

Escava said that while he does feel Starbucks is “eating up” his shop — which built a reputation for it conviviality and friendly gestures such as handing out free doggie treats to pet owners — he understands why the decision was made.

"I feel like there are many empty storefronts in the neighborhood," he mused. "But The Bean's location already had a “built-in customer base," he offered. “Is Starbucks the better financial risk than The Bean? I can’t argue with that.”

Representatives for the building owner declined to comment.

The move, however, isn't stopping Escava and Cohen from expanding their business. They have two more locations set to open in the coming months, in addition to the relocated shop and another recent addition on Broadway.

Still, that didn’t keep some fans, like Goodman, from lamenting the loss of the original.

“It was so shocking and so sudden to hear that they’re basically closing overnight,” she said, speaking fondly of the shop’s recognizable faces and attractive touches like the sun-bathed benches out front.

“It’s the soulless corporate place versus the real heartbeat. [Starbucks] just really adds to the bad taste… moving in like bulldozers.”

Others, such as neighbor Joshua Davis — who first got the tip that Starbucks was planning to take over — said that the area’s ever-changing face means many won’t even remember The Bean stood for a decade at the address.

“Because of the transient nature of the East Village, where you have people move in for two, three, four years, you have an entire population that has no sense of neighborhood history,” said Davis, 36, a photojournalist who’s lived nearby for the past dozen years.

“A year and a half from now, you’ll have people that won’t even remember that there wasn’t a Starbucks on this corner. They won’t understand why ousting a local business is not always the best thing for a neighborhood.”

He also questioned the motives behind Starbucks selection of the former coffee shop space.

“If you walk down Avenue A, you’ll see 10 empty storefronts,” Davis said. “What makes this corner so special that Starbucks has to be here?”

A Starbucks spokesman noted that the chain often improves other businesses located around it, citing the economic benefits to the larger neighborhood.

“When we move into a location, all boats rise,” said spokesman Jim Olson. “It becomes, sometimes, a destination.”

Escava, who plans to open the new East Second Street shop by next month, said the outpouring of gratitude for The Bean since it announced the closure has been overwhelming.

“The amount of support that I’m seeing here is straight out of a movie,” he said. “It’s heartwarming. It’s a good feeling.”

In the meantime, as the shop works to get its next ventures off the ground, The Bean plans to serve coffee from a food truck the owners rented to keep the area caffeinated. At the very least, Escava added, it will allow longtime customers to stay in touch with the shop before it’s reborn just down the block.

“At this point,” he said, “many of these people are my friends.”