Behind the Lens: Angelina Bellebuono
In the food service industry, there are rules about polished fingernails and hair and shoes.
But at Starbucks in Madison, just days away from the store's official closing, there are acrylic fingernails wrapped around the cups holding espresso. Painted fingernails, too. Fire engine red, even. Lovely hairstyles, with long, graceful locks falling delicately across foreheads, uncapped and, well, free. There are even the forbidden collarless shirts.
There are also signs on the front door, the drive-thru window, the drive-thru menu board... Signs that explain to patrons that this store will be closing on Friday, August 21 and thank you for being a customer and aren't you glad you like Starbucks and visit one of these other stores for your favorite drink, real soon.
There is a female commuter from Atlanta who visits the store regularly as a stop off en-route to where-ever she goes on a daily basis who cries when she reads the sign the first time. There are locals and visitors from across the country who sign the petitions, begging whatever random Starbucks employee working telephone customer service that day to reconsider closing a store that, to them, is comfort and consistency. There are moments of confusion when partners are told that there have been more calls about their store closing than any in this most recent rash of store shutdowns.
There is a man, the story goes, who offered to help Starbucks pay for their billboard that had been rented for a year along Interstate-20, and then removed in July 2008, so interstate traffic would be alerted to the presence of the store, therefore increasing sales.
And there are other stories like this one, but off the record, of course, because the employees who were told in April that the store would be closing on April 25, yet were kept in limbo about their jobs and childcare and schooling and life until mid-July when they were told that the store's lease was being "renegotiated," were also told that their severance packages would canceled if they said too much.
They were told they can't talk about the billboard and the sales numbers affiliated with it.
They can't discuss the land lease that has the company locked into a rent payment that will be due for years and years and years to come, regardless of whether the store is open, with potential for earning, or boarded up and closed.
But we can. We can talk about the fact that with the store closing, we have just another commercial dead zone in a spot that was once pastureland. Just another big. Empty. Box.
I know. There are those of you who say that this store was a corporate giant, planted here to put the small, mom-and-pop shops out of business. And you know, in a way, you're right.
But you're also wrong.
Wrong because these places don't choose Madison. We choose them. We choose them when we develop land. We court them with the right kind of zoning and the right kind of developers. We court them when we lose our agricultural focus and become more interested in getting cash in the bank for the land that could grow food for our bellies.
Losing Starbucks isn't about losing a place to buy a product. It's a metaphorical loss.
So maybe instead of putting blame on the corporate giant that is Starbucks or any of the other mega-businesses that line the every streets of every town in every county across this nation, maybe we should think more about where losses like these begin. And when. And how.
I'm sad Starbucks is closing. The staff is stellar. They work hard. They have believed in their product and they have provided quality service and goods day-in and day-out, despite their impending job loss, ordered by a company reputed in business journals and the media alike to be a great employer.
They could have become bitter. But instead, they stuck with it. They persevered and provided sales funds for the community. They kept a big corporate box occupied and functional for a just a little bit longer. Even with hair uncapped and fire-engine red fingernails, they smiled and served us. Served us well, even.
It's multi-faceted, this loss. And it's certainly about more than a cup of coffee. This loss has been brewing for years.