Why A California Starbucks Closed After Being Deemed 'Problematic'

In many major cities, you can't spit without hitting a Starbucks. (In Manhattan, for instance, Bustle reported in 2016 that you were never more than about 1,335 feet away from walking into a Starbucks.) But with over 33,000 locations around the world, Starbucks' stores are often as varied as the cities in which they reside.

The coffee chain originally gained international fame for its hot drinks and unique locations (like one store built inside a historic subterranean bank in Amsterdam), but Starbucks has been receiving some negative attention recently due to its reaction to an employee-led unionization struggle which Forbes shares has been going on since Summer 2021. Now, one California Starbucks is shuttering its doors, citing safety conditions it claims are posing a threat to baristas.

Earlier this week, Starbucks' Land Park store closed due to "neighborhood safety concerns," according to The Sacramento Bee. The store is located in close proximity to areas some feel are dangerous, including a shopping plaza that has become known for frequent visits from law enforcement. California news outlet KCRA 3 reports that other businesses in the Land Park area have recently made the decision to close for similar reasons. In the past month alone, it says, the Sacramento Police Department received multiple reports of the use of narcotics.

Starbucks employees are dealing with tough customers

Back in July, Starbucks announced plans to close 16 stores across the U.S., citing concern for employee safety. (The closures happened in Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., per TODAY.) At the time of the announcement, a video of CEO Howard Schultz from an "internal meeting" was leaked on Twitter, with Shultz reflecting on the impact neighborhood conditions can have on employee safety. "Starbucks is a window into America," said Schultz. "We have stores in every community, and we are facing things in which the stores were not built for. And so we're listening to our people and closing stores, and this is just the beginning. There are going to be many more."

During corporate outreach sessions, TODAY reports Starbucks employees voiced concerns about their safety. In an open letter, senior vice presidents of Starbucks U.S. operations Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelsen empathized, "You've been open and honest with us about your experience ... You're also seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities ... We read every incident report you file — it's a lot." The letter rolls out a list of new plans for keeping workers safe, including de-escalation, active shooter, and mental health first aid training.

A broader move toward safer working conditons?

To some, Starbucks' move toward better working conditions for employees is at odds with CEO Howard Schultz's public anti-union sentiments. It was only earlier this month the chain was ordered by the U.S. District Court to reinstate seven employees who were wrongfully terminated for their pro-union actions (via The Hill). "We want you to know that creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place is our top priority," the Starbucks VPs wrote in their letter. "Because simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don't first feel safe at work." In the leaked video, Schultz said, "It has shocked me that one of the primary concerns that our retail partners have is their own personal safety. And then we heard the stories that go along with them about what happens in our bathrooms: the issue of mental illness, the issues of homelessness, and the issues of crime." 

Still, prior to its closure, The Sacramento Bee claims the Land Park Starbucks location had already implemented altered safety measures, including barring bathrooms from public use and getting rid of in-store seating. In addition to the original 16 locations, at least two other Starbucks cafes have closed recently with the company citing similar reasons: one in L.A. and another in Kansas City. Employees at both now-shuttered locations expressed doubt that their pro-union activities were unrelated to the closure, regardless of what management claimed. It does not appear employees at the Land Park Starbucks were in the process of unionizing.