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Starbucks Is Abruptly Closing 16 Locations—Here's Why

More than a dozen stores will close their doors by the end of the month.

Starbucks has long branded itself as a community hub. The "third place between work and home" where the Wi-Fi is great and you can have a conversation with your friends or neighbors over a latte. However, that image is crumbling in areas where the safety of staff and guests seems to be a growing issue. A big enough issue, in fact, that the chain is having to resort to drastic measures at several cafes. 

Starbucks announced on July 11 that it is permanently closing the doors of 16 urban locations where crime has gotten out of control. Six of those locations are in its hometown of Seattle.

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The other permanent closures include six stores in the Los Angeles area, two in Portland, Ore., and one location each in Philadelphia, Pa., and Washington, D.C., according to The Wall Street Journal. The stores will close at the end of the month. 

A Starbucks spokesperson said that incidents of drug use, theft, and assault were rampant in these cafes. The decision to close them was based on the volume of crime-related complaints being logged by employees and the chain's unssuccessful attempts to lower those rates with various measures.

Starbucks customers
James R. Martin/Shutterstock

Denise Nielsen and Debbie Stroud, Starbucks senior vice presidents for U.S. operations, said in a memo to employees that the closures are a response to issues involving "personal safety, racism, lack of access to health care, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use and more" that have plagued the stores, according to The Seattle Times.

In June, the coffee chain said it is considering a change to its open-to-all bathroom policy as another measure meant to curb safety issues at its locations. The company instated the more inclusive policy in 2018, after the arrests of two customers at a Philadelphia store who were trying to use the bathroom without making a purchase caused a public backlash. But CEO Howard Schultz said the company doesn't know if it can keep its bathrooms open due to the compromised safety of its baristas. "We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people," he said.  

The current crisis of safety, the growing number of unionized stores, and the most recent chicken sandwich catastrophe have put the company's image in turmoil. But Starbucks seems to be back at the drawing board and looking for a solution. 

According to Schultz's most recent remarks, major changes are on the horizon as the chain looks to "reinvent" itself. While details are sparse, more will be revealed in the coming weeks.

"Today, we find ourselves in a position where we must modernize and transform the Starbucks experience in our stores and recreate an environment that is relevant, welcoming, and safe, and where we uplift one another with dignity, respect, and kindness," Schultz said in a July 12 letter viewed by Restaurant Business. "We need to reinvent Starbucks for the future."

Amber Lake
Amber Lake is a staff writer at Eat This, Not That! and has a degree in journalism from UNF in Jacksonville, Florida. Read more about Amber