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Second Williamsburg Starbucks Aims to Be 'Coolest' You've Ever Seen

By Serena Dai | November 3, 2014 5:27pm
 Starbucks opened its second Williamsburg location at 154 North Seventh St. on Monday, Nov. 3, 2014.
Williamsburg's North Seventh St. Starbucks
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WILLIAMSBURG — Starbucks' new location near the Bedford Avenue L train station claims to be "the coolest Starbucks you're ever going to go into" with regular coffee seminars, live music from local bands and curated decor from neighborhood artists, staff said during its grand opening Monday.

Locals who visited the chain during its noon debut were split on its sell to customers, with some approving of its Williamsburg-influenced design touches and others finding the shop's attempts to integrate with the community condescending.

Resident Zilah Drahn, 21, said even though the employees were "the nicest people working at Starbucks I've met in my life," she couldn't get past the fact that it was a mega-chain.

"I'm pissed about it," she said. "This is not Manhattan."

The decor, with its color scheme, neighborhood artwork and exposed brick, does give off a "local vibe," said Eliza Blackman, 24, but it looked "a little too new" to match the neighborhood.

One of Starbucks' "partners" — the corporate name for the chain's employees — stood by the door Monday afternoon welcoming patrons into the 154 North Seventh St. location, calling it "the coolest Starbucks you're ever going to go into."

But the pitch wasn't enough for some to stop in and buy a latte.

The design elements left Akiva Zamcheck, 25, who visited the shop as "a masochistic experiment," feeling depressed about gentrification in the neighborhood, he said.

"It's somehow uglier to me than if they constructed a run-of-the-mill Starbucks," he said.

The chain's second Williamsburg outpost faced backlash even before it opened its doors on Monday, with some 500 people signing a petition to reject the spot's bid for a beer and wine license earlier this fall.

Community Board 1 recommended denying the application due to the outcry, though the decision is ultimately up to the State Liquor Authority, which has not yet ruled on the license request.

The spot's manager, Brandon Giles, who has worked at Starbucks for more than nine years, said he has heard some of the criticism. But this location is different from all the others because it was designed to fit in with the neighborhood's existing coffee culture, he explained.

The 2,900-square-foot space is specially made for coffee education, such as tastings comparing different regions of coffee or different grinds. This week, the shop will have free tastings every hour to teach people about its Reserve coffees, which feature special beans in limited quantities at certain Starbucks stores.

Events with tastings and live music from local bands will become regular occurences at the coffee shop, which has a long, wooden table dedicated to coffee seminars.

Any future additions will depend on what the community wants, Giles added.

"One of my goals for this store is for it to really be a neighborhood coffee shop that just happens to be called Starbucks," he said.

Accountant Keith Klass, 31, who went into the shop for a grande caramel macchiato, said it was "one of the best" Starbucks he'd ever seen.

"It's spacious," he said. "The aesthetic matches the area. The company understands the customer."

Amanda Xu, 25, who works nearby, also went in for a caramel macchiato right after doors opened and was enthusiastic about the space.

"It feels comfortable," she said.

Resident Andrew Azebamwan, 28, said he loved that Starbucks opened another shop in the neighborhood, adding he knows first-hand how chains can improve an area.

Azebamwan, who has worked for J. Crew for about six years, said he got a raise when he went to work for the clothing chain's new Williamsburg location.

"A lot of people don't like it," he said, "But hey, whatever gets people jobs."