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This month is the 40th anniversary of Starbucks. In this reprinted story, our author well remembers the first Starbucks store and the first day of business, March 30, 1971, since he happens to have been the very first customer.

A 1976 drawing of the first Starbucks store at the corner of Pike Place and Virginia Street in Seattle. (Copyright © by Celia Bowker)

A 1976 drawing of the first Starbucks store at the corner of Pike Place and Virginia Street in Seattle. (Copyright © by Celia Bowker) None

It was the beginning of 1971, not a particularly upbeat time for the nation or the Northwest: The U.S. still had nearly 300,000 troops in Vietnam and was bombing supply routes in Laos and Cambodia. In the year just ended, National Guardsmen had shot down college students at Kent State, Washington state game wardens and troopers had attacked Indians "fishing in" along the Puyallup River with tear gas and clubs, the Beatles had announced their breakup, and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had died of drug overdoses.

Despite the general sense of things falling apart, some of us were starting new ventures: I had two young kids. And three friends of mine (Gordon Bowker, Zev Siegel, and Jerry Baldwin) had decided to launch a gourmet coffee store at the Pike Place Market. It had a catchy name: Starbucks.

It was a big gamble. Seattle may not have been the cultural dustbin of distant memory, but it was something of a culinary dustbin. It wasn't exactly a big coffee town. But then, virtually no place in America was. You could get espresso in San Francisco's North Beach, in New York's Greenwich Village or Little Italy, but most of the country was still drinking whatever the local supermarket sold in big vacuum-sealed cans. Seattle's trademark Scandinavians may have boosted the city's quantity of coffee consumption, but they didn't do much for the quality; they bought the same supermarket brands everyone else did. Under the circumstances, one could hardly be sure that many Seattle residents would pay the going price for a pound of good coffee, much less for a fancy German coffee maker.

Besides, times in Seattle were really bad. Boeing had laid off two-thirds of its work force since the start of 1969. In January, statewide unemployment had hit 15 percent. A couple of months later, people driving south on 99 could read the famous billboard, "Will the last person leaving Seattle - Turn out the lights."

By the late 1960s, the Pike Place Market itself had become run-down, a hangout for a large low-income population, not quite in keeping with the civic vision of the recent Seattle World's Fair. First Avenue south of the market was still lined with taverns and pawn shops and flophouse hotels. I bought vegetables at Pike Place from an Italian farmer called "young Tony," who was in his 70s, and chatted with his pal, "old Tony," who was in his 80s and lived in a cheap hotel nearby.

I sometimes ate at a cafe on the east side of Pike Place run by an aging woman with thin red hair named Irene. A counter and a row of old stools took up most of the space. Irene made Swedish pancakes for breakfast. They were the real thing, served with lingonberries and whipped cream. At lunch, Irene served roast beef sandwiches; each morning, she put a sirloin tip roast in the oven and cooked it slowly, at 275 degrees, until noon, when she cut thick slices and served them on bread, accompanied by home-canned vegetables she grew herself in a big garden south of town. In the spring, when the young plants in her garden were vulnerable to slugs, she'd go home after a long day on her feet, pick up a flashlight and an old kitchen knife, and go out in the dark to kill the slugs, one by one.

City government wanted to replace the old market with a large urban renewal project that would keep a cleaned-up market fragment for cosmetic effect but destroy the look and character of the place. When the (unreformed) City Council held hearings on the plan, a design expert testified that people should be able to walk from the lobby of a luxury hotel to a collection of reconstituted market shops without ever knowing one had passed from one to the other. The old immigrant ladies in black dresses who visited DeLaurenti's to buy salted codfish would presumably not be part of the decor. Led by U.W. architecture professor Victor Steinbrueck, who was single-minded to the point of obsession on this issue, Seattle's citizens dug in their heels. But at the beginning of 1971, the market's future was still in doubt. Citizens didn't pass the initiative that saved it until November.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the history lesson :): I'm not generally a Starbucks coffee drinker, thinking their coffee is too strong & burnt tasting. and I'm not a coffee aficionado. This new Pike Place Roast is very palatable to me, and I'm glad to see it. It's much smoother than the other Starbucks flavors.

I visited their Web site, and was also able to view a really cool Virtual Tour of the Pike Place store itself -- I never knew how much history there was (thanks to your article, too)! I found the tour at:

http://www.starbucks.com/flash/pikeplaceroast/

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Starbuck's First Tokyo Store: I used to cover Starbucks, and Seattle's other coffee companies, for the Puget Sound Business Journal, back in the days when Seattle HAD more than one coffee company.

Now, of course, it's pretty much all Starbucks.

Here's the story I wrote about the first Starbucks in Tokyo:

Starbucks takes its shot in Japan

Starbucks has done really well there, and the locals now call it Staa-Baa.

Jeanne

The Assertive Cancer Patient
www.assertivepatient.com

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

News to me!!!: Good grief! I've been telling people the wrong thing all these years!! I grew up in Central Washington - yes, you Seattle-centrics, there is such a place, usually dubbed "Eastern" over here - and prior to reading this story believed the current Pike Place location was the "original" location. Great article with lots of perspective. Plus, it coincided with my visit to the store next to my office this morning, where I purchased a Pike Place Blend-based redeye and noted the logo change on the cup sleeve. Back to roots!

debbalee

Posted Wed, Apr 9, 12:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Before Starbucks: Thanks for the great history. Before Starbucks I remember driving to Vancouver BC, to Murchies to buy green coffee beans, roasting them on a cookie sheet, grinding them in an old food mill and filtering the coffee through a a paper towel. We were desperate. You could get a great cup of coffee after dinner at the Brasserie Pittsburgh though.

MAW
MAW

Posted Thu, Apr 10, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

nice story, pleasantly written: aside staa baa as the japs call it, there seem to have been a few other things brewing in the city of chief sealth that did not turn out well or were that well grounded. this couldn't be the time that mossback and other nostalgikers hereabouts wax so fondly about could it with 15 % unemployment and the lights about to go out? meself, i'm an Allegro aficionado, but don't mind starbuck at all or the entire coffee culture no matter that the rubes hereabout need more than coffee to waken them from their infinite doltishness.

mikerol

Posted Thu, Apr 10, 10:57 p.m. Inappropriate

No other Coffee in Seattle?!: "Now, of course, it's pretty much all Starbucks."

Have you walked around Seattle lately? What about Cafe Vita (Used by Vita and All City), Tony's (used by Cafe Ladro) , Fonte (used by Uptown), Tully's, and my personal favorite Victrola. In fact, of the hundreds of Coffee Shops that line the streets of Seattle's neighborhoods, I can't think of a single one that uses Starbucks coffee, except of course, Starbucks.

Also, Cafe Allegro is simply an espresso and coffee house, they don't do any roasting. They use Brown's Coffee (another NOT Starbucks).
JoshMahar

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

And then there is Illy Caffè from Trieste, "the one that started it all." Had Gordon Bowker not become enamored of Italy's coffee culture, fueled by roasters such as Illy, there would have been no reason to start a coffee shop in the first place.

Worth mentioning, as well, that berkeleydude1 revives the canard that Starbucks is "burned." Well, yes, of course it is; roasting is a form of burning and coffee roasting (in French and in Italian) is just that: "burning." (You want coffee that's milder, don't get the Full City Roast.) Thank goodness for coffee that has real flavor!

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Next you'll tell us that Howard Shultz never owned the Supersonics!

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

What an excellent read! This is what I expect from Crosscut. A well written story, rich with features, full bodied detail. The rest of you navel dwellers don't get it. Its not about the coffee.
sheesh!

dman

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I think these are the same guys that started Redhook brewery, which I think was the first microbrewery around here..

ruffner

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's a reminiscence by one of the first Starbucks baristas, Michael Dougan (who chose to be nameless but now is comfortably out about his coffeebean past): http://www.cityartsonline.com/issues/seattle/2010/07/bc-coffee

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 1:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Yeah. The first one was next door to the liquor store in the market. It was very convienient.

fgruben

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks much for this. I worked for the Seattle Symphony on contract in 1972-73 helping organize their on-air auction with KING-FM, and Zev was an ardent supporter (well, look where his father worked), and I have fond memories of that first store, and Zev. Great times in Seattle.

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I used to go in there and shoot the breeze with Zev all the time. Those guys had to sell themselves in addition to the coffee. Look at the job they did!

ivan

Posted Wed, Mar 9, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

Re the illustration: I read in the PI a few days after doing the drawing that the fellow crossing the street in front of Starbucks, wearing the baseball cap and using a cane and crutch, shot someone a few minutes later. He was a well known figure in the Market.

Posted Thu, Mar 10, 6:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Also back in those early days, there were coffee co-ops, where a group of friends/neighbours could order bulk Starbucks-roasted beans: that wholesale side was called Caravelli and the roasting/pick-up place was on the corner of where the Harley store now is (First at Harbor Steps)...just up the street from Mr. D's, the best Greek place in town!

Posted Thu, Mar 10, 8:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Stash Teas, Starbucks, all products of the very early 70's. I loved those days.

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 12:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Hmmm. I still don't get the whole Seattle coffee thing. Seattle's a beer town. The coffee thing just seems so... uh... California.

dbreneman

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Good story.
The Allegro was one of Starbuck's first commercial customers, and they used it in their coffee for many years until after the founder sold the place and went to work for Starbucks as the person with the vision and plan to change their outlets from beans and implements outlets to the coffee shops they are today. He modeled the template on the Allegro and for years would bring Starbucks trainees and visitors around to the Allegro to see "the mothership" as he called it. Not that he really did that, the grit was washed away in the process but that was his method. There's a book waiting to be written on this subject, you'd think with all the writers in coffeeshops in this town it would have happened already.

NickBob

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 11:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Oops, meant to include his name. Dave Olsen opened the Allegro in a former mortuary after having been charmed by the coffeeshops he visited in Italy while on a bike tour. He learned about the trade in San Francisco afterwards. For years the Allegro used Italian terminology instead of the French, Au Lait instead of the Latte, but they finally gave way. A shame, that.

NickBob

Posted Sat, Mar 12, 7:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Late 1970s, as a newcomer here from the south ... I bought Starbuck's at U Village and compared it favorably to a local small roaster in Chapel Hill that I'd liked. Clearly, the cool coffee boutique that was A Southern Season didn't have the business savvy behind it that Sbux did ... !!

As long as we're going to give shout-outs to coffee roasters, please, please, let us sing the praises of Caffe D'Arte ... probably the smoothest, sweetest roast on the planet. Mauro is an artist with a bean.

Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Mar 15, 11:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Chaussures pas cher air max bw silence, l'histoire a connu. beaucoup plus par rapport aux années, passé par le biais d'une beaucoup moins formel chaussures Nike nord abordables, dominé par la petite auto-régulation; a connu des progrès rapides qui précède à la crise monétaire de l'adolescence

blairjian

Posted Wed, Mar 16, 5:44 a.m. Inappropriate

When I originally wrote this, Chaussures Converse I was mistaken about the sequence of events.

huangsx

Posted Thu, Mar 17, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

" pleasantly written: aside staa baa as the japs call it.."

japs?!

Really. How stupid.

Posted Sat, Mar 26, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

If I remember correctly, if you bought a pound of coffee they gave you a free cup of drip coffee - all they had at the time. Also, though my memory is hazy on this, I think that after they roasted coffee, if it didn't sell within some relatively short period of time it was donated to one of the food banks. They really prided themselves on the freshness of their coffee.

Gregr

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