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Drama Unfolds with the Opening of Williamsburg’s First Starbucks

As might be expected, there has been some pushback related to the opening of Williamsburg’s first Starbucks, which debuted at 6 a.m. today at the new 65 Ainsle building at the intersection of Ainsle and Union.

If Williamsburg didn’t “officially end” in November with the opening of a Dunkin’ Donuts, Eater says the Starbucks opening makes “the gentrification of hipsterville” complete. Clearly, names like Starbucks and Dunkin’ carry some symbolic significance.

Meanwhile, an indie shop one block down from the new ‘Bux has been quite vocal in saying that the chain store is not a direct competitor. The West, which by day serves coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company and by night offers a full bar and 14 craft beers on tap at 369 Union Ave., published a letter from one of its faithful customers, Douglas Turner, explaining why the four-year-old coffee bar is not threatened:

This may sound like a classic tale of David Vs. Goliath, but The West’s focus won’t be on competing with Starbucks. As someone who uses The West as a home-away-from-home office almost every day, it is hard to imagine that a new generation of locals would ever find themselves in a generic coffee franchise listening to Starbucks muzak compilations.

The West in Williamsburg

The West in Williamsburg

One could argue there’s a bit too much protesting here, in the Shakespearian sense. But Turner goes on to make a salient point about a struggle fought by any number of independent retailers in growing neighborhoods:

The welcoming of Starbucks by the owner of the luxury rental condo building at Union and Ainslie marks a dramatic shift sweeping through Williamsburg. My concern is that Starbucks is just the beginning of a trend toward more expensive commercial leases, which will ultimately prove detrimental to a lively mix of small local businesses.

The West owner Esther Bell weighs in, in her own words:

We have bathrooms too… no seriously we’ve always been about supporting the community — we have great locally roasted coffee, craft beer, and cocktails. But above all, we partner with artists, web developers and programmers for presentations, fundraisers, screenings, and readings.  Our neighbors come to us because they feel we are an extension of their home, or a comfortable place to work and have a good time.

As of this writing, Grub Street was reporting that the Williamsburg ‘Bux may be facing an uphill climb in winning over locals.