Crusader Staff Report
The expresso machines and coffee makers stopped. The tables and bar stools were empty. The Starbucks in two of Chicago’s predominately Black neighborhoods were among 8,000 shops in the prominent coffee house chain to close their doors Tuesday afternoon as the company’s 175,000 employees underwent racial bias training.
The decision to provide training came after the arrest of two Black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, where a manager called police on them as they waited for a friend for a business meeting.
After days of public outcry, Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz apologized and made the unprecedented move of closing all of the company’s coffee shops on May 29 to fine tune service to its minority patrons-particularly Blacks. The day also included national appeals from Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project, a non-profit youth social services organization, to patronize over 400 Black-owned coffee houses around the country.
For more than an hour, Starbucks’ entire home page was covered with the message “We’ll See You Tomorrow” on a green background. In addition to closing its stores, Starbucks also shut down mobile ordering from its digital platform.
With reports that Chicago rapper Common was participating in the anti-bias training, all eyes were on Starbucks, a successful chain that for years promoted itself as a company of inclusion and diversity until the arrest of the two Black men shook the coffee house to its core. Reports said Starbucks lost $12 million during the training, but the Jackson Black Star Project estimated the loss to be around $100 million.
At 2:30 Tuesday, May 29, Starbucks closed its shops in Englewood and South Shore, two predominately Black neighborhoods where racial profiling is not a problem among the shops’ mostly Black employees. At both locations, a notice was posted on Starbucks’ front entrance. Starbucks did not release details of its training, but the notice said the employees would reconnect with Starbucks’ mission “and share ideas about how to make Starbucks more welcoming.”
There are no Starbucks shops in Gary, Indiana and the South Shore and Englewood locations are the only two stores located in predominately Black neighborhoods. Starbucks for years has been criticized for not opening shops where many people of color live.
Hours before they were scheduled to close for the anti-bias training, a Crusader reporter visited Starbucks’ Englewood and South Shore locations, where he asked customers whether the training is the solution to Starbucks’ problems. The customers preferred to use their first names for this story.
“I think there was some good that came out of it (Philadelphia), what those young men were trying to do, so I think that’s what we need to keep the focus on,” said Bill at Starbucks’ Englewood location.
One regular customer at Starbucks in Englewood, Erika, said the racial bias training is a “step in the right direction. I appreciate them closing down and losing this much money to actually be productive and do what’s right.”
At the South Shore location, Cliff, a regular customer, said Starbucks should not have shut down all of its shops “because of one person. I wouldn’t have done that. What’s it going to prove if the individual is still that way. If that person grew up that way what can you do? That’s the individual.”
At a Black-owned coffee shop in the South Loop, Jackson held a press conference to kick off National Eat At a Black Coffee House Day, hours before the Starbucks racial bias training began. Black Star Executive Director Gloria Smith said there are over 400-Black owned coffee shops throughout the country and 30 in the Chicago area.