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Of Starbucks & split identities

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An undated Associated Press file photo of a Starbucks Coffee Shop in California. This photo is not representative of all Starbucks, nor is it necessarily a rendition of how a Middlebury Starbucks will look.


The conundrum of medium-size towns (for Vermont) like Middlebury is that they often have a split personality that pits a growing shopping center mentality against the desire to be quaint, personal and very local. The proposed location of a Starbucks Coffee Shop on Route 7 by McDonald’s and the Centre Plaza shopping center is the latest manifestation of the town’s struggle with its identity.

Many people, including numerous Middlebury College students and visiting parents who are accustomed to the chain’s well-established reputation, will be potential fans of the proposed Starbucks. Passing motorists, locals at that end of town, and others will also find the convenience of the location attractive. And as developer Myron Hunt said in a story in last Thursday’s Addison Independent, the single-story, 1,700-square-foot building will be a lot more attractive than the abandoned car wash has been for the past year or so.

But can the welcoming of a chain coffee shop in Middlebury be called progress, or is it the continued usurpation of mass corporate culture over the local economy? Area residents, depending on their perspective, will see it both ways.

The question we all face is whether anything should be done to limit such corporate infiltration, or should we just accept the role of the marketplace and do the best we can — as a community — to create zones where mass cultural forces have their place, while preserving the downtown as the soul of the community?

The latter is probably Middlebury’s fate. Opponents of the Starbucks shop would be fighting a project that current zoning most surely allows. And it would be a stretch to argue that it doesn’t fit in with its surroundings, seeing how the majority of businesses in the area are corporate chain operations.

But that doesn’t mean area residents are helpless to respond in ways that will support local businesses and preserve the ‘soul of the community’ in the downtown area.

The marketplace is a powerful force and there’s nothing more powerful than shopping at those stores and businesses that are locally owned and operated. If Starbucks presents a concern to a certain sector of Middlebury-area residents, then the best response is to visit local coffee shops regularly. Make it a daily, or every other day, occurrence. Bring a friend. Set meetings there. Occasionally buy one of the numerous food items to go along with your coffee or tea. Also be ready and willing to shop in the other downtown and locally-owned stores throughout Middlebury to keep them vibrant and economically strong. Support with your pocketbook is the most powerful step each of us can make.

In the meantime, give Starbucks its due and welcome the diversity of business into the town. As individuals we don’t all have the same tastes, and Middlebury is just big enough that it appears likely we’ll all have to learn how to grow with our split personally. If that’s the case, our challenge is to grow in ways that best fit our community and to do it gracefully.

Angelo S. Lynn

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