January 28, 2008
BY JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Starbucks will not proceed with plans for a new store off Route 7 South in Middlebury. The proposed coffee shop has apparently become a casualty of a recent shift in Starbucks’ business plan calling for development of fewer stores in the U.S. this year.
“As you are no doubt aware, the Starbucks Corporation has entered a period of reorganization in the wake of its disappointing financial performance this past year,” reads a recent letter to the Middlebury planning office from Christopher Hunt, a partner with Buffalo, N.Y.-based company Myron Hunt Inc. that was seeking to build the coffee shop on land adjacent to The Centre shopping plaza.
“Unfortunately for us, and for the town of Middlebury, as part of their process (Starbucks) has decided to halt development of many planned, yet un-built stores,” the letter reads. “Accordingly, we are hereby withdrawing our application to amend the Hannaford shopping center P.U.D. (planned unit development) to include Starbucks.”
Newly named Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said his agenda will include refocusing on the “customer experience” in current stores and new products, while slowing the pace of new U.S. store openings. Starbucks also plans to close an as-yet undetermined number of underperforming locations.
Starbucks becomes the second major retailer to pull the plug on plans for a Middlebury store during the past three months. In early December, Aldi announced it would not proceed with a plan to locate a 17,000-square-foot discount food operation in the Middlebury South Village (MSV) development off Court Street. Aldi also cancelled plans to develop stores on a handful of sites in other parts of the state.
Meanwhile, Starbucks’ announcement will come as good news to the dozens of area residents who turned out earlier this winter at a Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) hearing to oppose the proposed new store. Critics claimed a Starbucks would represent an incursion into the local economy of another international corporate player that would export revenues while hurting the bottom line of home-grown businesses — such as Carol’s Hungry Mind Café. Even without a Starbucks, Carol’s future remains uncertain beyond this spring.
The DRB still has one major store application remaining on its radar screen. Myron Hunt Inc. continues to seek permission to build a 15,000-square-foot Staples store on a spot next to the Hannaford Supermarket in The Centre.
Local officials said they were not stunned to hear of Starbucks’ change of heart on its plans for Middlebury.
John Barstow, chairman of the DRB, noted major corporations must react quickly to shifts in management or in the global economy. He said Middlebury was likely one of the company’s smaller market areas and therefore may have been seen as a logical spot from which to withdraw.
Local officials are now wondering if the final shoe has dropped.
“Given the state of the economy right now, who knows what the fate of Staples might be?” Barstow said.
For now, it’s still a go.
“We will … proceed with the Staples application and look forward to continuing that presentation before the DRB on Feb. 25,” Hunt wrote in his letter.
With the Starbucks application now pulled, Barstow said the DRB will likely ask Myron Hunt Inc. about how it will maintain the Route 7 South site that would’ve hosted the new store. The former Middlebury Car Wash currently occupies that site.