Clovis News

Starbucks customers poised for more caffeine withdrawal

Caffeine fans may have to find another fix with the announcement that five more Starbucks stores in the central San Joaquin Valley will close sometime this year.

It's the second round of cuts in less than a year for the Seattle-based coffee giant, which will close about 200 underperforming stores in the U.S. and about 100 more in other countries. In mid-2008, Starbucks announced plans to close some 600 of its American locations.

The closures come amid challenges that include the recession, increased competition and, some say, fading interest in what once had been a novelty.

Two stores in Fresno are among those to be shuttered in the latest batch of cuts, along with one each in Clovis, Tulare and Farmersville.

It's not known when any particular store will close; some locations may close as early as this month, but all are expected to be closed by the end of the company's fiscal year in September, a Starbucks corporate source said in an e-mail.

At the Starbucks at Shaw and Armstrong avenues in Clovis, baristas have been notifying their customers for the past couple of days about the impending closure.

Retired college English instructor Dewayne Rail, who lives about a mile and a half from the Clovis store, said he was disheartened by news that one of his favorite coffee hangouts will close sometime this year.

"Let's just say I come here a lot," he said. "I come here in the mornings, and I do my reading with a very good cup of coffee."

Rail, pausing from his detective novel, said he enjoys the store because the staff knows him on sight when he comes in and often has his drink of choice ready before he reaches the counter. Plus, its lack of a drive-through lane "makes it seem more like a 'real' coffeehouse."

But not having a drive-through may also be a strike against the store, said Wayne Rutledge, co-owner of the local Uncle Harry's New York Bagelry & Coffeehouse chain. Many of the Valley stores being closed don't have drive-through lanes, which Rutledge said are a critical component to a successful store.

Starbucks is encountering a "perfect storm" of challenges, said Bill Rice, a marketing professor at California State University, Fresno. He cited increased competition from new premium coffee offered at McDonald's, Starbucks' own overexpansion, an economic downtown that is prompting consumers to consider less expensive brands or brew their coffee at home, and changing tastes.

McDonald's is causing consumers to rethink paying a higher price for coffee.

"Take away 10%, 15% or 20% [of Starbucks' sales] and they will have to close some of their stores," Rice said. "People are also changing their tastes. Starbucks is not the attraction and novelty it once was."

Rail said he's not sure where he'll migrate once his Starbucks closes, but he's not swayed by McDonald's claims of improved coffee.

"It's just advertising spin," he said. "It's just not as good as Starbucks.

"I don't like change," he added. "I'll try to find another place where I'll feel comfortable, but I think that's going to take some effort."

Across town, time is running out on the Starbucks at Bullard and West avenues in northwest Fresno. Customer Lindsey Gerrish wasn't perturbed to learn of the store's closure, "as long as they don't close too many of them."

"I'm over at the Starbucks at River Park every day hanging out with friends," Gerrish said. "I come to this one when I just want to read a book, drink some coffee and not be interrupted."

Gerrish sometimes makes her own coffee at home and has tried some other coffee places, "but the coffee just doesn't compare," she said.

The announced closures will still leave Starbucks with more than 40 stores in the greater Fresno/Clovis area.

In Tulare, the store to be closed at Prosperity Avenue and Mooney Boulevard is in the parking lot in front of a Target store that has another Starbucks inside -- one of three Starbucks sites in a one-mile stretch of Prosperity Avenue.

The Starbucks to be closed in Farmersville, at Noble Avenue and Farmersville Boulevard near Highway 198, is the town's only one. It comes after the company closed its only store in the nearby Tulare County town of Exeter last year.

Two stores in Fresno, one in Visalia and the Exeter store were on the chopping block in the first round of closures.

Rutledge called Starbucks "wildly successful regardless" of the downsizing. But, he added, stores that were doing only OK become vulnerable when the economy slows.