What Victrola thinks of neighbor Starbucks three weeks later

Sound familiar?

Through its latest venture … Starbucks is experimenting with a completely different approach to java. A swift departure from Starbucks’ sparse, no-nonsense ambiance, this 3,100-square-foot coffeehouse is graced with antique furnishings, red velvet curtains and well-worn couches. More than just a place to grab a cup of joe, … also boasts complete breakfast, lunch and dinner menus; a full liquor bar; live music; Internet access from many tables and a private meeting place called the Green Room. This cross between a neighborhood coffeehouse, a restaurant and a bar caters to a hip, urban crowd, many of whom have shunned Starbucks in the past. It’s also a place where customers can sink into a comfy couch, sip a mocha or martini, and stay awhile.

The above was written for Entrepreneur Magazine 10 years ago. June 1999.

Via CurbedSF, comes this reminder that history repeats. Starbucks launched the Circadia Coffee House brand in San Francisco at the turn of the millennium. The concept morphed into the Starbucks Cafes that also soon were either shut down or converted into regular Starbucks outlets. So, is what we’re seeing down the street at 15th Ave Coffee & Tea the same thing all over again?

Victrola Coffee owner Dan Ollis thinks so.


“You don’t know what is going to be going behind the butcher paper,” Ollis said of his initial apprehension about the new Starbucks venture moving into Victrola’s neighborhood. “We’re doing fine. It’s a beautiful store. They’ve clearly spent a lot of money and we’re flattered to have been immitated,” Ollis said.

“Victrola has customers that are so loyal that they feel like protective parents so they’ve gone over to check the new place out. But they come back to report what they saw. It’s great.”

Ollis said that during the first week, he and the Victrola staff got caught up in the hype around 15th Ave Coffee & Tea but now they’re getting back to concentrating on Victrola. “I’m still waiting for Howard to call, though,” said Ollis, who parlayed his Whidbey Island Coffee company into his own PNW mini-empire when he purchased Victrola in February 2008. In the meantime, Ollis said he has no need and no plans to change what Victrola does.

The same can’t be said about the rest of his caffeine empire. Ollis said a little bit of Capitol Hill has been spreading out across his other stores. “We are now teaching latte art to all the Whidbey staff,” Ollis said. “But I don’t know how much of the crossover is going to happen. Each area has its own quirks.”

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5 thoughts on “What Victrola thinks of neighbor Starbucks three weeks later

  1. My special person and I checked out the 15th Ave Starbucks during the week of super heat. The air conditioning drew us in. It had a nice interior and was a very comfortable place to sit and work for a few hours. I definitely prefer the beverages, food, and politics of Victrola, but sometimes I want a hipster-free place to work for a few hours. Despite its dangerous proximity to Smith, 15th Street Starbucks was delightfully free of scraggly facial pubes, skinny jeans, and unwashed hair. There were also no screaming toddlers.

    I can’t see myself going there often nor can I imagine the new store would ever register as more than a blip in Victrola’s sales, but I think the place has some value in our neighborhood. The new 15th Ave Coffee and Tea is a little sanctuary for those of us who are less-interested in seeing and being in a scene, a place to go when you don’t feel like running in to your neighbors and friends, or when you really need to avoid the temptation of the utterly irresistible Mighty-O donuts.

  2. Really. Since when do coffee shops have territories. Provide a better value…get more business. It is as simple as that.

    Both shops will do fine.

    Victrola is technically a chain now, owned by a guy on Whidbey Island so the “local” argument has little merit.

    Without Starbucks, most of these “local” shops would not have the market they do and would not be able to charge the prices they do. Starbucks brought over-priced coffee mainstream and Victrola has benefited.

  3. Whidbey Island IS local. It is a mere two COUNTIES away from Seattle. I would also argue that Starbucks carries less “local” personality and qualities than Victrola.

  4. Local is an overused term that is really meaningless. My definition only allows for something being one county away.

    Based on all of the arguments on this blog against 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea, Whidbey Island does not qualify as local.

    But if it has to be within two counties, Starbucks qualifies as local.

  5. Local, schmokal. Everybody has a different definition of local, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I’m a freelance journalist and live on Whidbey Island. Years ago, when Whidbey Coffee first started out (they built the first drive-thru on the island), I did a story about them. So it’s nice to see our “local” boy make good and give Starbucks some competition. But wait, I don’t think Dan lives on the island anymore, so I guess he’s not “local.” And his coffee beans aren’t raised on the island, so they aren’t local either. OMG, what do do? This is why Seattle can’t get anything done — too much hand wringing and kum-ba-ya-ing about minutiae. Time for a coffee break!