There are no Starbucks in South Phoenix

Kim Gutierrez &Tracy Beian-Kirk

Learning from South Phoenix
ASB 442 Urban Anthropology
Spring 2002


            Is Starbucks a precursor to gentrification? This project began innocently by a simple remark Tracy made one week in class “I need a Starbucks”, while experiencing an energy low when our class was working at Habitat for Humanity located in South Phoenix. This comment and thought made us start thinking about where Starbucks picks its store locations in the valley.  We wondered if South Phoenix was deprived by not having a Starbucks in their community? We decided this sounded like a good team project that we could do together and have fun while researching for this paper.

  Our journey began on a Sunday morning at the Starbucks located in Central Phoenix at Park Central, located at North Central Ave and Catalina Streets there was no seating available. People were waiting to order coffee delicacies such as, Lattes, Cappuccino, Caramel Machiattos and Iced Mochacinos.  Many people were alone reading the newspaper, talking on their cell phones and some writing, clearly not engaged with others.  The outdoor areas were also filled with people, more groups of friends talking, with many people alone again. 

             The crowd appeared to be primarily white, with a few scattered people of color. The feeling we experienced in this Starbucks was that of private conversations, it did not appear that many of the crowd knew the others seated near or around them—they seemed to only talk and acknowledge the people they were with; an occasional simple nod of hello was forced at best. 

            We already were aware that indeed there are no Starbucks in South Phoenix, so we set out on a quest to find out if South Phoenix has any establishments or a coffeehouse’s similar to Starbucks in Central Phoenix.  We were pointed in the direction of two local establishments, by a fellow classmate that lives in South Phoenix, she recommended we try a local restaurant El Mesquite, at the corner of Baseline and Central and La Sonorese, a bakery located on Central Avenue. They were the closest parallels we could find to coffeehouses in South Phoenix. In contrast to Starbucks our experiences at these local places were amazing.  These establishments were different, very family and friend oriented—they had an energy that was hospitable.  The people within the boundaries of the restaurant were warm, friendly and welcoming. It was obvious that the people in this crowd were made up of regulars who visited this local place often. 

             The waitresses were happy to greet each patron as if they were their own family. Our waitress, Dora recognized Kim as if she were an old friend; having only dined there three times, Kim felt welcomed and comfortable. Yet she was totally amazed that the waitress remembered her and that our waitress remembered personal information and asked Kim about it.  Wow! I cannot imagine this happening at Starbucks after two visits. As we ate our fabulous breakfast, drinking our coffee we both remarked it was like being on vacation. The Mexican musica blaring in the background just added more culture and warmth to this restaurant.  We felt like we fit in and were completely satiated when we left.  On our way out the door one of the waitresses said, “see you next week.”  

La Sonorese is a family bakery that has been in its current location for 16 years. The pastries and tortillas are fresh and totally delicious.  While we were trying to figure out what kind of empanadas to buy a line formed behind us. Within five minutes over 10 people came in to purchase their morning tortillas and pastries—similar to Starbucks. But no one stayed to enjoy their purchases at La Sonorese, they took them with them obviously to be enjoyed in another place.

            Now that we have experienced South Phoenix on a Sunday morning we hope that Starbucks “never” moves into the neighborhood. The culture that Starbucks attracts is not truly a sense of family or locals.  It attracts a group of people who want to feel as though they are engaged in a community without really ever being a part of it. We do not want to see the warm, friendly and welcoming establishments like El Mesquite and La Sonorese disappear just because Starbucks moves in and changes the cultural landscape of the community. We must also mention the difference here is that it is not about the coffee it is about people.

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