The ubiquitous chain targets Point
Richmond in a venture with Magic Johnson to build stores in racially
By Peter Felsenfeld
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
RICHMOND -- There's trouble brewing in
Visitors still stroll through the quaint galleries and antique stores;
neighbors still chat and sip lattes along the quiet streets. But behind
the contentment, locals are bracing for an inimical force so disruptive
it threatens to upset the equilibrium of the entire community.
You better watch out: Starbucks is coming to town.
The Starbucks to Point Richmond saga features basketball legend and
store co-owner Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Councilman Tom Butt, whose
company owns a share of the building Starbucks plans to occupy. The cast
also includes irate residents attempting to block the ubiquitous
retailer from sullying their chain store-free neighborhood.
"Most of the people I talk to are very unhappy about the Starbucks; it's
our first franchise," said Juanita Hoffman, who put up posters alerting
her Point Richmond neighbors about the store. "My concern is we're
sending the wrong message to people who want to start a family-owned
Richmond is the only city in Northern California with a population
greater than 100,000 that doesn't have a Starbucks. Point Richmond cafe
and deli owners, fearful of losing customers and being forced out of
business, wish the chain had chosen to inhabit any other neighborhood.
"We're already saturated with coffee shops and we're barely scraping by
as it is," said Paul Garnett, who co-owns Rosemary's Bakery at 101 Park
Place. "We don't see how Starbucks thinks they can just waltz in here
and turn a profit."
Christine Hung, Starbucks' Northern California marketing manager, said
the store, which officials hope to open in March, would attract
customers to Point Richmond and improve business for everyone. In
addition, the Starbucks will be tastefully decorated to blend in with
the neighborhood, will hire as many as 20 local residents and will
encourage community involvement from employees, Hung said.
"Our brand is strong enough so that people will seek us out," Hung said.
"We've seen over and over that Starbucks can exist with other coffee
shops. We often bring new life to other businesses in an area."
The store represents the latest offering from Urban Coffee
Opportunities, a partnership between Magic Johnson's Johnson Development
and Starbucks. The venture seeks to build stores in racially diverse,
under-represented communities, often serving as a catalyst for economic
development and local job training.
Johnson Development has similar arrangements with T.G.I. Friday's and
With one of Contra Costa County's lowest median incomes and a large
African-American population, Richmond would seem the ideal location for
such a project. However, the company will lease space in Point Richmond,
a predominantly white, affluent neighborhood that doesn't reflect the
majority of Richmond.
Ken Lombard, president of Johnson Development, said he has wanted to
establish an Urban Coffee Opportunities business in Richmond for a long
time, and the Point Richmond area -- although affluent -- satisfies the
company's diversity criterion.
"Most of the locations we choose do not have the level of income that
Point Richmond has," Lombard said. "But the community has a number of
quality retail options, so we thought it would be perfect for
Starbucks has signed a lease for a building on Park Place owned by the
Baltic Square Joint Venture. The ownership group consists of Richmond
Development Co. and a limited partnership called Baltic Development
Associates, of which Tom Butt's company Interactive Resources is a
Attorney Josh Genser, who will take over next year as chairman of
Richmond's Chamber of Commerce, is chief executive of Richmond
Butt, a Point Richmond resident since 1973, said his neighbors have a
long history of opposing change. For example, locals protested placing
Point Richmond on the National Register of Historic Places and also
objected to creating the Point Richmond Parking District, which created
parking spaces along Railroad Avenue, Butt said.
Baltic Development Associates had trouble finding a tenant, and if
Starbucks hadn't come forward, the property might have remained empty,
"I believe Starbucks is a positive addition to the community," Butt
said. "The company attracts this kind of controversy like a magnet. I
think once they're settled in, everything will be fine and this whole
thing will just blow over."
Rosemary's Bakery's loyal customers have collected 200 signatures from
residents opposing Starbucks in Point Richmond. The issue will be
discussed at the next Neighborhood Council meeting Dec. 26.
Peter Felsenfeld covers Richmond. Reach him at 510-262-2725 or