One More Cup of CD for the Road

Starbucks boldly markets its mild music blend

Most New Yorkers I speak with assuage their blue-state guilt for imbibing the corporation's delicious black crack, secure in the knowledge that workers there make two to three dollars above minimum wage and may be eligible for health insurance benefits, stock options, and 401(k) plans. Many customers are also convinced the store concentrates on fair-trade coffee. But how sure should they be?

Antigone Rising
photo: James Minchin

"Starbucks is the perfect example of a contemporary corporation," Professor Baldauf explains. "They are very aware of educated consumers and their concerns. They use a certain language and are incredibly successful in presenting themselves as being consumer and worker friendly; at the very same time, they are the fastest growing corporation." Union organizer Daniel Gross claims all baristas are part-time and none make a living wage. And fair-trade coffee, it turns out, makes up less than 5 percent of the stores' sales (which totaled $5.3 billion in 2004, according to their financial statements, up 30 percent over 2003). Every day, three new Starbucks open up somewhere in the world. So where does that leave us? What coffee store big or small can ever compete?

illustration: Anthony Freda



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  • It's 9:30 a.m. on a recent Wednesday at Astor Place. As usual, eight or so bleary-eyed commuters stand aside the bright orange Mudtruck awaiting their daily caffeine fix. Abstract hip-hop beats blare from the speakers hung off the side of the converted Con Ed truck. "We play everything—RJD2, Prince, the Small Faces, anything," explains Shoshana Ami, the energetic and gregarious worker inside the motor vehicle. "Also Rare Earth, Aphex Twin, Prefuse 73, and sometimes death metal," her co-worker Kyle Lawrence calls out. It would have been only too easy for any of the cued-up workaday weary to hit one of four Starbucks that lie within a two-block radius of here. "Sometimes," Ami says. "I even make mix tapes for the customers."

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