Vancouver has Starbucks withdrawal pains

The grieving B.C. city needs to recall how it inspired Starbucks in the first place, with a little help from Berkeley
Crosscut archive image.

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

The grieving B.C. city needs to recall how it inspired Starbucks in the first place, with a little help from Berkeley

Vancouver, B.C. is feeling sorry for itself: Starbucks is closing some outlets. According to a story in the Globe and Mail, Vancouver has long prided itself as being the first city outside the U.S. to have a Starbucks (that was 1987). Another achievement: having two Starbucks kitty-corner on a downtown street.

The city fell hard. Now stores are closing, though the company won't say how many or where. Meanwhile, new ones are opening in places like Poland, where Starbucks has less competition.

Not mentioned in the story is the key role that Vancouver had in giving birth to Starbucks. Back in the late 1960s, one of the Starbucks founders, Gordon Bowker, then a journalist and a creative advertising director, used to drive up to Vancouver's legendary Murchie's Tea & Coffee on Robson Street to get proper beans, which he would cart back and brew in Seattle at his funky little home. Murchie's was founded in 1894 and is still going strong, though no longer at the Robson St. location I well remember (especially the aroma). Bowker likes to say that he (along with Zev Siegel and Jerry Baldwin) started Starbucks in 1971 just so he didn't have to make that long drive to and from Vancouver all the time, and to bring a good cup of coffee to his hometown.

The other city that has paternity rights for Starbucks is Berkeley, where a Dutch perfectionist named Alfred Peet started a coffee store in 1966 in Berkeley (still there on the corner of Walnut and Vine). It was Peet who tutored the three founders how to buy, roast, and brew dark coffee; provided roasted beans in the first year of Starbuck's operation in the Pike Place Market; and was eventually bought by Starbucks in 1984. The original owners sold Starbuck's to Howard Schultz and a group of Seattle investors in 1987, while Baldwin stayed involved in running Peet's, still very much alive and making very fine coffee.


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