There was a time not long ago when Broad Street in Newark had a Starbucks and Newarkers who were so inclined could wait in a long line for a 340 calorie whole milk venti caramel macchiato or whatever other overpriced coffee drink satisfied their desire for caffeine, fat and carbs.
Prudential's new office tower looms above a soon to open Starbucks, which is coming back to Newark's Broad Street after a seven year absence.
Then in the summer of 2008, after eight years at 744 Broad Street, the Seattle-based coffee chain announced it was pulling up stakes, leaving Newark with just two campus outposts at Rutgers and NJIT and one lonely Starbucks ensconced in the maze of the Gateway complex near the Hilton Hotel. All three locations are well out of reach of most downtown denizens who inhabit the Broad Street corridor.
It was such a big deal when the Broad Street Starbucks opened in 2000 that then Mayor Sharpe James showed up to cut the ribbon. And its closing was such a blow to Brick City that The New York Times penned a story about its passing with this headline: “To Starbucks, A Closing; To Newark, A Trauma.” At the time, Mayor Cory Booker's office placed a call to Seattle, but even with all his star power, the chain would not reconsider.
Since that time, Newarkers who wanted the experience of a coffee house downtown had a few options – the Art Kitchen and Coffee Cave – both on Halsey Street. But even the Coffee Cave pulled out a few months ago, moving to the city’s North Ward.
So it came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to see a simple sign posted on the window of a newly constructed building next to Prudential’s new office tower with the Starbucks logo and the words, “Coming Soon.”
Inside, workers are busily building out the space with the trademark bar, earth-toned tiles and a large space for tables. There’s a patio on the side of the building that will likely soon be filled with Newarkers doing their best impression of Parisians.
Starbucks confirmed the store will be open in early September and employ 20 partners, but declined to make one of those partners available for an interview because "as you can imagine, we receive a large number of requests and cannot always accommodate." That's PR speak for buzz off.
They were nice enough, however, to let us know that in addition to "Starbucks menu of handcrafted beverages and food, this store will offer Starbucks Reserve, a special collection of unique, small-lot coffees which are selected from farms all over the world by our experienced coffee team. Newark customers will be able to order their Starbucks Reserve coffee brewed on The Clover Brewing System, which lets you discover new layers and dimensions within a coffee’s familiar aroma, flavor, body and acidity, brewed fresh by the cup." Whatever that means, coffee snobs all over the Greater Newark area must be rejoicing.
In most other cities, like that big city to the east of Newark, the opening of a Starbucks generally goes unnoticed. But in Newark, the opening of a Starbucks is big news because it’s an affirmation that corporate America finally recognizes Newark is no longer a city to be redlined.
Starbucks isn’t the first chain to realize how much Newark is changing. In the last few years, several chains have set up shop in downtown Newark, including Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Joe’s Crab Shack, Chipotle and most recently Jimmy John’s. There's even a Whole Foods and a Nike Factory Store coming soon.
What drives chains like Starbucks to open new outlets is a complex formula, but it boils down to simple economics. The store must make more money that it costs to operate. The shuttered store at 744 Broad Street clearly wasn’t making the bean counters in Seattle happy.
But things may be different this time around. With Prudential’s new office tower looming above it, Starbucks is no doubt betting that all those new office workers hunched over their desks in their cubicles will spurn the weak cafeteria coffee for a cup of 100 percent ethically sourced Starbucks Reserve come mid-morning and perhaps even mid-afternoon.
And so the rest of us who’ve been without a Starbucks for the last seven years will now have what so many people other American cities and suburbs take for granted.
Welcome back to Broad Street Starbucks. We'll give you a second chance. But don't leave us decaffeinated again.