Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Masticator in Seattle

I'm in Seattle for a few days on business. I've never been here before, but I have some roots here -- my great grandparents on one side settled in the Seattle-Tacoma area from Norway in the early twentieth century. Walking this city, I'm struck by how much it resembles Oslo -- both are built up in hills overlooking fjords (or fjord-like bodies of water). Both are very green.

I got a Sunday newspaper outside my door: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It's a name so awkward that some people think it's some kind of jab at our president. It looks like a decent enough rag. Little odd to be a new New Yorker reading about 9/11 in a paper from the opposite coast though.

Actually, upon closer inspection, the Sunday paper is both the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The P-I started in 1863, according to the website, and the Times started in 1896. The Times is the bigger paper. While the two papers have separate ownership, the Times handles marketing, circualtion, production, and advertising for the P-I. Which seems like a conflict of interest. Apparently they do a joint Sunday paper. I don't get it.

There are a lot of companies from Seattle. I thought Nike was here, but it turns out it's Beaverton, Oregon. NikeTown is here -- but that's just a giant store. Boeing was headquartered here, but they moved to Chicago. Microsoft is around here though. And of course Starbucks.

One Post-Intelligencer headline says that although there are more than 100 Starbucks stores in Seattle, small coffee shops still do well. The little guys apparently acknowledge Starbucks' role in making the $5 cup of coffee the norm -- something they say keeps them all in business.

There's a "landmark" Starbucks store in Pike's Market here in Seattle, the legendary first store. I visited the store, but I didn't buy anything. In a world with endless coffee possibilities, I can afford to be an elitist and say that I don't like their coffee.

In the business section of the paper (the Times this time), there's an article on Starbucks expansion that says the coffee company is worried about having the same problems McDonald's did getting huge.

The very premise is absurd to New Yorkers, and I would guess Londoners would agree: Starbucks, which in those two cities sometimes has stores across the street from each other is worried about over-expanding? McDonald's grew by at least one store per day from the 1972 to 2002. Starbucks has about 12,000 stores now (8,600 in America), and they want 30,000. They are now opening five stores per day. They now have one store for every 11,000 people in Washington State.

I'll be writing more about my Seattle trip in the next couple of days.

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