With planned closure of Roy Street Coffee, Starbucks experiment on Capitol Hill will end — UPDATE

(Image: CHS)

A Starbucks experiment that began ten years ago on Capitol Hill is set to come to an end. Roy Street Coffee and Tea will close this spring.

The global coffee giant hasn’t yet responded to CHS’s inquiry about the planned closure but customers of the Roy at Broadway cafe have been told the location will close at the end of April. UPDATE 2/19/19: Starbucks says they are leaving the location completely at the end of April:

As part of Starbucks standard course of business, we continually evaluate our business to ensure a healthy store portfolio. After careful consideration, we’ve made the difficult decision to close the store on Roy Street. Our last day at this location will be April 28, 2019. All Starbucks partners (employees) working at that store will have the opportunity to transfer to one of our locations in Seattle.

An effort is already underway to “save” the indie-style Starbucks cafe:

With news of the closing of Roy St Coffee & Tea,the creation of a warm and belonging atmosphere is undermined by the changing visions from Starbucks leadership. Acting with the courage and challenging the status quo begins to be questioned, as they shutter the doors of an establishment that has done just that. Finding new ways to find growth for the company [Starbucks] and each other is lessened.

We don’t yet know if Starbucks is planning to convert the location back into a standard cafe but the closure will fall at the ten year mark since Roy Street’s opening and could be related to a ten-year lease for the space in the 700 Broadway building, one of the neighborhood’s most controversial — and ugly, some said — new developments when the mixed-use development debuted in 2004.


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The experiment behind Roy Street could have created a very different Starbucks than we know today. The project debuted in 2009 as part of a pair of new Capitol Hill cafes that looked, felt, and in some ways operated like the independent cafes the new joints were designed to mimic. The 15th Ave Coffee and Tea part of the experiment didn’t last as long it was converted back to a standard Starbucks in 2011 and is today a Full Tilt ice cream shop.

But Roy Street carried on as a kind of special Starbucks cousin where you could use the coffee cards you got for Christmas from grandma and still get a craft coffee experience in one of the largest cafe settings in the neighborhood. Thanks to all that space, the cafe has been a favorite place for laptop jockeys and parking made it also popular with cops. It also seemed to be crawling with Starbucks folks either getting some work in or checking out some new innovation or trend. Starbucks “coffee ambassador” Major Cohen is a counter regular.

Starbucks design folks said many of the elements in the store were inspired by the Loveless Building across the street. The 3,600-square-foot space’s large windows have presented a lovely view of the Loveless and northern Broadway street life.

“Like other new stores we’ve opened recently – 1st and Pike and University Village in Seattle, Paris Disney and Conduit Street in London, this coffeehouse is a celebration of the community’s personality and values,” Starbucks PR said at the time. “Like all new Starbucks stores, whether they are Starbucks branded or the new concept stores, Roy Street Coffee & Tea uses regional materials, features the work of local artists and is designed for sustainability.”

But, like Paris Disney, things change. As the company’s former CEO Howard Schultz mounts a possible independent run for president, it looks like Starbucks is folding up its own experiment in indie independence. A larger initiative has grown from yet another Capitol Hill-born Starbucks experiment. In late 2014, the company opened its first Starbucks Reserve Roastery at the base of Capitol Hill. It has since built new “roastery” locations around the world and extended the brand into its global offerings as a new, upscale brand complete with $50 cups of coffee within the standard Starbucks experience.

In the end, it is probably a better direction. The indie-style experiment was criticized for its aping of neighborhood cafes like Victrola while the Melrose Roastery and its siblings are seen more as one of a kind coffee palaces. (Also, tip to Major Cohen: there’s fantastic coffee still available at Broadway and Roy at Joe Bar — oh, wait, you probably already know a little bit about it.)

But Roy Street employees and regulars probably don’t care much about the implications for the company and its all-time high stock price. For now, fans have a couple months to enjoy their favorite coffee hangout while the rest of us wonder what experiments the coffee giant will hatch on Capitol Hill next.

 

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20 thoughts on “With planned closure of Roy Street Coffee, Starbucks experiment on Capitol Hill will end — UPDATE

  1. Socialist Alternative, please instruct Kshama Sawant to save Roy St Coffee & Tea. Much like the Showbox and Saba Restaurant, this is a wonderful part of our community that should not be allowed to close. Ms. Sawant’s constituents enjoy eating, drinking, studying, and even sleeping in its warm, inviting ambiance. I’m sure she will attain great benefits from saving it from the hands of greedy developers who don’t share your values.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    • The real estate owners (particularly those under ~70) are the enemy this time. SUCH greedy douchebag liars. The reality is, you have to sell a shit-ton of coffee & pastry to cover just the space rent (likely well-over $5,000 month with the new lease). This absurd lease-rate BS is killing independent store and sensible chain profitability from NY to London to Seattle and San Francisco alike. It’s ridiculous and needs to be ended. What would otherwise be operating costs, salaries/payroll and profit is increasingly going directly into the hands of greedy developers and property owners/managers. Ridiculous. Laws must be enacted or we will see mass closures and/or 10 megachains leasing everything (or $6 doughnuts, $8 coffees, $35 pizzas, etc, -or, both)

      • If you want to stop the increase of rents around the city, you will have to stop the sale of commercial real estate. There are many properties around Cap Hill and Seattle that have been owned by one person or family for many, many years. A lot of these properties have little or no debt, thus they can afford below market rents….aka: ‘affordable’ for small independent and ‘Mom and Pop’ operations. Eventually the long term owners of the properties want to retire and sell…to a new owner…..who has to pay ‘MARKET RATE’ for the property…. then overnight the debt structure of the property goes from close to nothing (if the property was paid off) to many millions of debt. And I ask…who is going to pay for the new debt incurred by the recent sale at market price? The tenant!!!!!

        Yes it’s ugly, but that’s how the real estate market works. So it’s not necessarily ‘Greedy Landlords’, it’s new owners buying at market rates looking for tenants to pay market rates…..
        Stop real estate sales and you will end insane rent increases….
        Yeah……and good luck with that…..

  2. Curious if people still think this building is as ugly as mentioned in the linked 2012 article. Many other WAY uglier buildings on Capitol Hill nowadays *cough* Weatherford *cough*

    At least there’s some useful pedestrian and cafe space and it’s not a giant flat facade.

    • There are good reasons to not like it, but I never *hated* it.

      The Apodment-style micro apartment monstrosity on 20th just south of Denny, HAS to be the worst/ugliest building on Capitol Hill. It may just look like something a snotty 8 year old might build out of legos (and not it a good way), but the mismatched windows, sketchy construction, and unpainted exterior win it the prize… Contrasting yellow hardie board panels at the corners are not a “thing”.

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