Artist says corporate rules forced Roy Street Coffee to cancel her show – UPDATE

For a look at some of the challenges facing Starbucks as it ‘scales down’ to the neighborhood level in its Capitol Hill experiments at the 15th Ave and Roy Street Coffee and Tea shops, meet Hill artist Megan Myers. The artist tells CHS that Starbucks has abruptly canceled her Roy Street exhibit just a week before it was supposed to begin due to conflicts between local staff and corporate management.

Next Saturday night, Myers was supposed to open a show of her work at Roy Street Coffee and Tea. It’s a show she says she has been preparing for and promoting since December.

“I had never been anti-starbucks or anything but I was surprised they would be able to feature local artists,” Myers told CHS.

(detail 2) no fair no fair no fair Originally uploaded by meganmariemyers

Myers said it was shaping up to be a great opportunity for her and that the local Roy Street staff was looking forward to the first exhibit in the space. “They seemed excited to show a local artist and told me it was really meeting their mission.”

What Myers didn’t realize is she was a lab rat in the ‘inspired by Starbucks’ experiment. The Roy Street shop had featured a local artist before — but that had been a sculptor. Myers was the first 2-D artist to be lined up for an exhibit. As the date of Myers’ show approached, word of the opening made its way up the corporate chain.

On Friday, Myers said Roy Street staff and an apologetic but awkward phone call from Starbucks corporate told her the show was off.

“Once the designer found out that my art would be in with the other artist, he said no,” Myers said. “He didn’t think the aesthetics would go together”

Myers said she has been told the Starbucks designer working on Roy Street commissioned a mural for the store. When he found out that other work would be temporarily replacing the mural, and be shown around it, he demanded that the mural stay up, no other work be shown with it, and that if any other work were to be shown, Starbucks would need to commission the same artist to make more pieces.

Roy Street was forced to cancel the show.

We’ll follow up with Roy Street and Starbucks on Monday. In the meantime, Myers says she’s looking for another Hill venue to feature her work and isn’t sure what she’ll be doing next Saturday night when her Roy Street show was supposed to open.

The situation has, she says, made her reconsider her position on Starbucks and its two indie-styled Capitol Hill cafes.  “The company is so large that somebody they didn’t think would have a problem with it, did. Usually, when you go into an independent coffee shop,” Myers said, “you’re dealing with the people who make the decisions.”

UPDATE 2/1/10 11:56 AM:
We have a phone call and e-mail out to Starbucks but haven’t yet heard back on this issue. Will let you know when we do.

UPDATE 2/2/10 12:30 PM:
Still no call or e-mail from Starbucks. We’ll keep trying.

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31 thoughts on “Artist says corporate rules forced Roy Street Coffee to cancel her show – UPDATE

  1. Why does jseattle seem to take the perspective of Starbucks? “The challenges facing Starbucks?” Really? How about the challenges facing communities in which Starbucks operates or the challenges local artists face abiding Starbucks’ monopoly? Is someone perhaps a bit naive on the possibility of a “kindler, gentler” corporate monster? On Wednesday, the company reported that in the first quarter, which included the important holiday season, net income was $241.5 million, up from $64.3 million in the year-ago quarter. Oh, the challenges!

  2. Another reason to continue my avoidance of Starbucks and it’s indie “experiments”. I work right next door to a starbucks, but I walk the extra couple blocks to the many truly independent coffee places around here.

  3. I helped organize an author event at 15th Ave Coffee & Tea in November, and one of the things the “entertainment/arts coordinator” noted to me in one of our meetings was that they were going to try everything until someone at Corporate told them no. Even then it was clear that they knew that not everything the might want to do would get a blessing from on high.

    It’s unfortunate that this happened, I know that the local store employees are honestly interested in integrating well with their neighborhoods. If they’re not given enough flexibility then this experiment will never really take off.

  4. I like the store, the employees are nice, the space is large, the coffee is pretty good, but now the corporate egotistic designer doesn’t want to have his “#@$% art” replaced. Is this the step downward I was waiting for?

  5. It’s unfortunate that this happened, but don’t worry. I know you’ll get your chance to show your art someday soon. Best of luck!

  6. It’s interesting how many people in Seattle seem to hate on Starbucks for being a corporation that attempts to make a profit from consumers of its product. I wonder how much wage income Starbucks pays to all of its employees in Seattle to spend in our local economy, and I wonder how much tax revenue its stores in Seattle generate for the city and the state? (Revenues that pay for government services we use, btw.)

    They are apparently meeting the needs of at least SOME consumers, given the number of people who buy from them. And even Consumer Reports magazine’s latest issue rates Starbucks House Blend as the best tasting blended coffee beans you can buy in your local grocery store.

    I know they sometimes do stupid things from a marketing or policy standpoint, but you can say that about any big company, or even about independent coffee shops at one time or another. I don’t work for them, and I don’t even drink coffee, but in my opinion, Starbucks net impact on Seattle is much more positive than negative.

  7. I have no problems with Starbucks making profits and I’m sure that its true that they paticipate fully in the local economy. I don’t drink Starbucks coffee because I choose to spend my money with small businesses who do not have the benefit of marketing teams, corporate offices or any of the amenities that come with being a multinational corporation. It’s my way of supporting small business in a brutal economy, my choice. If its not yours, that’s fine.

    The problem here is not that Starbucks makes money. The problem is that their new marketing program seems to be walking away from their corporate logo and trying to brand themselves as neighborhood businessess. They are not. A neighborhood business does not need permission from corporate to make decisions.

    I believe its a dishonest and purposely vague tactic, and inherently cynical. It is designed to lull people into a “shopping local” ethios that no longer has anything to do with Starbucks.

  8. HA HA, I’m sorry, but I’m very familiar with “Starbucks speak” and this comment it spoken like a true “partner.”

  9. I guess I’m missing something. Was the show cancelled just because of the commissioned piece that is on display? Starbucks seems to have no trouble displaying local artists in its mainstream locations. Broadway & Republican and Jackson & Occidental are just two stores that I *know* of that do so on a regular basis.

  10. You should take a class or read a book about marketing. Companies of all sizes and types of ownership re-brand and change their offerings all the time. It does not take a marketing team in a corporation to do this.

    If this really confuses you, then you might have some other issues driving your anger.

  11. Her work has been visible at Katy’s Corner Cafe (or it seems to be the same work) for a while now. :-)

    Blah on corporate politics. Oh well, things like this happen I guess.

  12. This has to be really disappointing for Megan Meyers, but it would be nice to hear the other side of the story before passing judgement. It sounds like the staff didn’t have the authority to book the show on top of the existing commission and she got caught in the crossfire. Hope they can work something out for future shows — the space at Roy street is amazingly large and comfortably appointed, could be a nice fallback when Joe Bar and Vivace are reliably packed.

  13. I agree that companies change their public profiler and corporate image all the time. This company has chosen to position this new venture as “neighborhood business”. They are not. So when someone from corporate makes a decision for one of their “neighborhood” stores they look foolish.

    I think any basic business text would tell you thats bad marketing…

    As for my anger issues… oh, brother, you aint heard the half of it.

  14. It is a neighborhood coffee shop. It is also owned locally. More local then Stumptown or Victrola.

    Both locations don’t seem to be huring for customers. Is all marketing you don’t agree with foolish?

  15. Locally owned? A publicly traded corporation is not local. It is owned by shareholders across the globe. I have no problem with corporations, I even like Starbucks. But calling them local is dishonest.

  16. We’re not going to agree here. I think it’s a cynical, dishonest ploy. You think it’s brilliant marketing. I suppose we’re both right. Personally I’ve made a comittment to spending my money with small business – precisely because of my strong feelings on the issue. As a consumer that’s what affects my spending choices. So I choose not to spend my money at the Roy St. Starbucks branch. Will I change the world? Probably not. But I don’t feel like a sucker.

  17. I agree wholeheartedly. I am really annoyed by the general feeling that a business making a profit is a bad thing. Sure you can point out exact things that certain corporations do that are harmful to a community/environment/economy, but just the fact they they turn a profit – even a big profit – isn’t the evil deed itself. And, to address O RLY, Im’ not exactly sure how Starbucks qualifies as a Monopoly. Perhaps you can elaborate.

    I’m not sure if Starbucks is a good company or not. I’ve never worked for them directly so I don’t know how they treat employees. Although once I worked for a Barnes and Nobles who carried Starbucks coffee and found it interesting how seriously they take the quality control of their product (despite the fact that most coffee lovers I know think it’s terrible). I’ve also never really heard a specific detail that has shown me how they won their coveted “Evil Corporation” title. I’m not saying those details aren’t out there, I just haven’t come across them yet.

    Even this incident doesn’t strike me as evil. It’s an unfortunate result of being a large corporation. The bigger you are, the more cooks you have in the kitchen and things are bound to clash. Sounds like Starbucks made a poor choice in choosing a designer or fine tuning their contract with this designer and now their hands are tied. Hopefully this will be a lesson for future neighborhood coffee shop experiments. I can certainly understand Myers’distaste for this kind of situation and how it would discourage her from working with larger businesses, and I don’t see anything wrong with that choice. I face a similar situation when small companies I work for get bought and I leave because I’m no longer comfortable with the atmosphere. No one has done anything wrong, it’s just not something that is a good fit for me anymore or that I choose to deal with.

    I have confidence that Myers will find a place to show her work that is easier to work with and I even have confidence that Starbucks will find a solution to feature local art in the future once these contract annoyances are worked out.

  18. Dishonest? They have their corporate name very clearly on the door when you enter the store. Seems less like dishonesty and more like they are attempting to adjust to the kind of business a neighborhood wants without losing sight of their established procedures.

  19. I’m sorry, but you really have no right to speak on a topic if you know nothing about it. Profits are the unpaid labor of workers. One barista can pour dozens of cups of coffee in one hour. That barista doesn’t get paid more than $13/hr. Where does all the rest of that money go? To someone who sits on his/her ass and doesn’t do a damn thing to create that profit. Please learn some basic economics so you don’t find yourself defending entities that fuck you over. You sound like prostitutes defending your pimps.

  20. You act like the barista did all the work. Did the barista source the coffee? Did the barista roast the coffee? Did the barista do the market research to understand what products to offer? Did the barista select the location for the shop? More importantly, did the barista provide any of the capital to start and fund the business?

    The answer to all of this is no. Those people sitting on their assess made all of this possible. You need to learn some basic business. The barista is also CHOOSING to be employeed at $13/hr.

    You sound like an idiot defending a prostitute.

  21. Not locally owned but it is local. It has an impact on our local economy and employs many people in the area. These people spend the money they earn working for Starbucks supporting other local businesses.

  22. How much money does the Starbucks put into the local economy? Probably not as much as it would if it were an independent coffee shop, its contributions to the pocketbooks of its employees (and speaking as a former “partner” I can tell you the corporation does everything it can to get workers to spend their paychecks in the store, in addition to keeping wages and hours low) for the simple reason that a MUCH higher percentage of money spent at locally-owned shops remains within the local economy as compared to corporate chains. On the balance of things, chain stores are almost universally extracting, whereas local shops are more likely to keep their money in the community. This is even true in the cities where corporations are headquartered.

    And if Starbucks’ House Blend is the best coffee in the grocery store, that doesn’t say much for the available selection.

  23. I would love to see some numbers to back up your statement. If you look at the number of people employed by Starbucks in Seattle and what those employees spend in the local economy it would far outweigh the impact any independent coffee shop has. Additionally, you could add to that the contributions any corporation based in Seattle makes to local charities. You could also add all of the local suppliers that benefit from Starbucks success.

    If by partner you specifically mean Barista and they are making 13/hour as another comment stated then I think they are getting paid too much for this type of work.

  24. Megan Myers art looks cute as all get out…too bad the show fell through. What’s a real shame, though, is that she got canceled only a week before the show was going to happen. I get that decision-making gets more complex when a cafe is part of a big chain, but they really should have figured all this out sooner. Hopefully, this will be a good learning experience for the folks at Roy Street for when they set up shows in the future.

  25. It seems to me, that it’s the baristas/manager of Roy St. who overstepped their boundaries. THEY know that they work for Starbucks, even if the public doesn’t. Working for a large corporation has it’s advantages (insurance, benefits), and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is making sure that you get approval for things that are beyond the usual scope of your job. Being a curator is probably one of those things.

  26. If Starbucks weren’t trying to deceive Capitol Hill locals into thinking that they aren’t walking into a Starbucks but are instead patronizing a locally-owned coffee shop, this sort of embarrassment wouldn’t come up. As it is, their attempt to have it both ways — to be a massive international corporate chain and to have individual stores that appear to be local mom-and-pop operations — seems destined to run aground.

    If people attach enough value to local businesses to choose to spend their money at them, that is their prerogative. Trying to trick them into buying a corporate product without their knowledge seems destined to generate ill will.

  27. There seems to be a lot of ego to spare in the design world (and I say this as a design student). I agree, not surprising at all. Lame situation, the designer needs to let go of his/her work now that it is out in the world!