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Williamsburg Coffee Shop Says Starbucks Booze License Would Kill Small Biz

By Serena Dai | October 2, 2014 3:08pm
 The owner of indie coffee shop The West has started a petition against Starbucks' bid for a liquor license at a second Wiliamsburg location.
The owner of indie coffee shop The West has started a petition against Starbucks' bid for a liquor license at a second Wiliamsburg location.
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The West/DNAinfo/Serena Dai

WILLIAMSBURG — The owner of an indie coffee shop launched a petition this week opposing Starbucks' bid for a liquor license at its latest Williamsburg location — saying that granting the chain the right to sell booze could lead to Starbucks beer halls and sports bars swallowing up small businesses.

Esther Bell, owner of java joint The West on Union Avenue, started the petition Monday and has already gathered about 200 signatures. She plans to present the names at Community Board 1's liquor license committee meeting Thursday night.

The West, a coffee shop and bar located at 379 Union Ave., sits just a block away from the neighborhood's first Starbucks at 405-409 Union Ave. that opened in July.

Starbucks is now asking for a liquor license to serve beer and wine at a new location at 154 N. Seventh St., a request that was delayed a month when the community board said it hadn't been transparent enough about being behind the application.

Though people have supported Bell's shop since Starbucks opened down the street, she fears that approving Starbucks' license will threaten Williamsburg's culture of independent coffee shops, bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.

Bell, who leaped into action this week after finding out about Starbucks' plan to sell alcohol, said granting the chain a liquor license could embolden the company to seek a more and more. She said there could end up being a Starbucks-affiliated business on every corner, making it one of the only places to go.

"I can imagine Starbucks coming in there and creating Starbucks beer garden, a Starbucks sports bar," Bell said, noting that small businesses like hers depend on alcohol sales as a source of revenue to survive.

"It’s a franchise that can’t stop themselves."

She has been asking people who are against the license to attend the meeting, which will be at the community board's office at 435 Graham Ave. at 6:30 p.m. The petition is also being passed out at The West and around the neighborhood.

Starbucks has one other location in New York that serves alcohol, a cafe in Macy's that goes by the name Herald Square Cafe. It is not clear if the upcoming Williamsburg location will feature the Starbucks name or follow the Herald Square model.

The Seattle-based chain announced earlier this year that it plans on bringing booze to thousands of stores across the country after testing the concept in about 40 stores.

An executive told reporters at the time that the company had seen success with alcohol sales in urban areas where people are out at night.

A Starbucks spokeswoman did not immediately respond to request for comment.

"The billionaires of Starbucks are now threatening to undermine a major lifeline of Brooklyn's small businesses," the petition reads. "Selling beer, wine, and liquor is one of the few ways that local restaurants, bars, delis, and coffeehouses can make ends meet in New York City."

The second Starbucks is not located near The West, but Bell said she feels an affinity for the businesses around Bedford Avenue, where she lived for 10 years.

She hopes that enough people will come out to the meeting to show that the neighborhood does not want Starbucks to "infiltrate" Williamsburg the way it has in Manhattan.

"Manhattan is a mall," she said. "We don't have to accept that Brooklyn is on the same path."

An online version of Esther Bell's petition can be seen here. A paper copy, which was started before the online one, has been circulating this week.