Tag Archives: neighborhood

thursday travelogue: rochester’s rising south wedge.

The reborn South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester, N.Y., shows that sometimes when you want to wake up a community, you just need a little coffee.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

And while the Boulder Coffee Co. didn’t single-handedly revitalize the neighborhood from its once-seedy reputation, it’s a cornerstone location from which regular live entertainment, a farmer’s market and festivals radiate. I visited in the middle of the Boulder Festival, featuring bands, an eclectic selection of vendors, flavorful food and drink, and a sample of the diverse neighborhood’s residents and customers. A caterer called Freshwise — with a slogan of If It Ain’t New York State, It Ain’t On My Plate — served great food that also reminds us to buy local. Young ladies with hula hoops, maturing urban hipsters with families and the occasional hairy gent who dances to everything gathered with a friendly vibe flowing.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

OK, I’ll admit a bias to hoping this particular neighborhood succeeds. A former intern of mine when I worked in the festival business and his wife, both Oswego grads, played a major role turning the neighborhood into the hip place it is today. They started with Boulder Coffee and now own some 30 buildings in the area, many of them reclamation projects. Throughout South Wedge — which has, one should note, its own Ning — you’ll find funky eateries and bars, bakeries, second-hand stores, salons, a seller of parts for historic homes, parks and a planning committee that advises local doings. All things urbanists would say makes for a great community, so many of which happened organically.

[Hula] Hooping it up.

(Hula) Hooping it up at the Boulder Festival.

But you look at vibrant revived communities and they often circle back to a few dreamers, often artistic types. SoHo started with artists squatting in abandoned buildings and evolved into a place whose cool attracted everyone. Atlanta’s Little Five Points, Fremont in Seattle, Buffalo’s Allentown district and countless other neighborhoods owe their pedigree to folks who wanted to do their own thing, create something different and cultivate a living style envied from miles away.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

When I look at cookie-cutter subdivisions that can’t draw tenants and compare them to vibrant neighborhoods who celebrate the spirit of individuality, it’s no surprise the latter attract more attention. And South Wedge is one such place, a surging hot spot that oozes urban cool.



Filed under writing

non-branding branding: starbucks in wolves’ clothing?

I read with great interest this Seattle Times article about Starbucks going hyperlocal by rebranding some of its shops without any Starbucks branding. The throwback 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea test store will offer nary a Starbucks logo and even serve wine and beer as some traditional neighborhood coffeehouses do.

It will launch as the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong, the Times’ Melissa Anderson writes, and if successful will replicate in other markets. Starbucks’ SVP of global design, Tim Pfeiffer, notes each store intends to have a community personality, to look and feel more like an organic part of a neighborhood than a chain store.

But while going neighborhood and hyperlocal are things I applaud, what does it say about Starbucks’ belief in its own branding that it rolls these out each under its own customized name almost as stealth shops? Are they admitting people equate the name Starbucks with chain stores that spread like kudzu and often choke out native coffeehouses? In Seattle and Vancouver, for example, Starbucks are so abundant that it’s clear they are looking for overall market share rather than same-store sales, the usual indicator of an individual establishment’s success.

Reaction among actual neighborhood coffeeshops ranged from bemusement to anger — the latter because Starbucks representatives would essentially squat in their stores and observe goings-on. Starbucks reps spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, ‘Observation,’ said Dan Ollis, who owns soon-to-be neighbor Victrola Coffee Roasters. So apparently the rebranding also involves culling the best ideas of the competition plus non-use of the Starbucks name with all the economy-of-scale advantages the company famously leverages?

Granted, existing businesses launch new units all the time, but usually because they see a niche or void in the market. I’m no fan of Wal-Mart, but when they rolled out Sam’s Clubs, it found a ready audience for shoppers’ clubs with bulk sales (and named it after founder Sam Walton). Sometimes it’s aspirational, like when FX Matt Brewery started its Saranac line of craft brews to appeal to those who wouldn’t deign swallow Utica Club. But Starbucks isn’t looking at serving a niche; it’s trying to overpower an existing one. It’s not trying to save the neighborhood coffeehouse as much as eliminate existing neighborhood coffeehouses.

If you work in higher education, imagine a scenario where Harvard sent representatives to observe your campus for a year, then built a college right next door and used its deep pockets and superior marketing budget to poach your best students. 15th Avenue and its brethren look like wolves in sheeps’ clothing meant to thin the herd, not add new customer experiences. The next time I’m in Seattle, I plan to make a beeline to Victrola Coffee Roasters to show my support. Assuming it survives that long.


Filed under writing