Starbucks, which has become known across the country and much of the world as the “third place” in our lives after home and the workplace (which rank first and second), is testing a “let’s make it slightly uncomfortable” model in West Hollywood.
The city’s newest Starbucks, which sits at the northwest corner of Santa Monica and Robertson boulevards, opened with relatively little indoor seating. And now it has removed its public electrical outlets, making it a less attractive gathering place for the screen writers and freelance publicists who have gathered there.
It has done the same thing at its location on the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Brea, where it is part of the Gateway.
“It happened about four months ago,” a Starbucks employee at the Gateway told WEHOville. “It’s a safety program that Starbucks is rolling out. We are part of the testing program, so they took out outlets.”
An employee at the Santa Monica and Robertson location told a somewhat different story. He said the outlets had been removed because of the large number of incidents involving customers who came just to charge a phone or computer and didn’t buy coffee. He acknowledged that most of them were homeless people.
A manager at the Starbucks on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard at Westmount said there have been similar incidents there, but that the staff has responded to them quickly and effectively so they haven’t been major problems. For now at least, the electrical outlets are safe at that location. Known as the “Big Gay Starbucks” (BGS) for a crowd that includes screenwriters, actors and more than a few porn performers (and sometimes the editor and publisher of WEHOville), it is West Hollywood’s civic plaza.
Altercations there may have been good for Starbucks, given the publicity they have attracted. One example is the incident at the BGS in 2015 when Leslie Jordan, the Emmy Award winning actor known for his feisty personality as well as his Southern drawl, got into an altercation with three young and apparently heterosexual men who were using the slur “faggot” and making other homophobic remarks. Jordan shouted “not in my house” at the men, and followed them outside for a minor brawl that got coverage around the world and led to his being featured in a one-man show called “Not In My House!” at the Nikko, a cabaret at one of San Francisco’s most posh hotels.
A lot of publicity also was generated in 2014 by a “fake news” story that claimed pop-star Justin Bieber walked into the BGS “with no shirt on and his pants hanging down and underwear showing and tried to order a caramel apple machiatto.” According to that discredited story, Bieber asked his bodyguard to assault the barrista who refused to serve him. The real baristas said they were overwhelmed by telephone calls about the “incident.”
Things haven’t changed at the two other WeHo Starbucks locations. The one at 8363 Sunset Blvd. near Kings Road has electric outlets – on the ceiling. So you have to bring a long cord to get a charge. And the tiny one on the northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Fairfax hasn’t had electric outlets in 10 years, an employee told WEHOville.
If the removal of electrical outlets is a test, it’s not clear what is being tested. Is Starbucks hoping for more customer turnover if folks can’t linger at its tables? Is it hoping to make its coffee shops less attractive to the homeless, many of whom do have cell phones even if they don’t have shoes or a pillow? Starbucks media folks still haven’t responded to WEHOville inquiries.