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Starbucks Goes Undercover in Seattle

Using a tactic that is virtually the reverse of its typical omnipresent cluster openings, Starbucks’ new plan for coffee supremacy is to go stealth by opening up new stores that claim to be “inspired by Starbucks”  when, in fact, they actually are Starbucks — after a fashion. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is the name of the first Seattle shop, which opened its doors last week.

The décor is decidedly un-Starbucks-like (no hunter green sterile environs here), and instead resembles something you might see in New Orleans’ French Quarter: distressed wood, tin walls, mismatched furniture, a pastry counter, actual teacups and mugs. Add to this a menu of imported beer and wine, poetry readings, and manually served coffee beans and tea, and you’ve got what some are calling the appropriation of the local café culture and boutique environment.

But here’s what I’ve been wondering: Is Starbucks opening these stealth stores in an attempt to fool customers who dislike the chain into patronizing their company as business has taken a turn for the worse? Is the overall increase in anti-corporate sentiment potentially leading to an un-branding trend?And with two more locations already planned in Seattle, when will a stealth Starbucks make its way to the East Village?

You know it’s just a matter of time.

Related post: The Kool-Aid’s in the Coffee: An Interview with David Latourell of Intelligentsia Coffee Roaster

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