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W’burgers: No on Starbucks booze bid

Beer or coffee?: The Union Avenue and Ainslie Street Starbucks. The Seattle chain has applied for a license to sell beer or wine alongside juice and java at another store under construction on N. Seventh Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street.
Photo by Jason Speakman

A booze-slinging Starbucks isn’t welcome in Williamsburg because it will kill small businesses and dilute the area’s supposedly bohemian character, neighbors and members of the local community board said at a meeting on Oct. 2.

Residents lined up to rail against the java giant’s bid for a liquor license, and a rival coffee shop in the neighborhood collected nearly 500 signatures on a petition opposing the proposal in the two days prior.

Community Board 1’s liquor committee voted to deny the bid after heated opposition from locals who said the enterprise poses a threat to small businesses and furthers the foothold chains are getting in the area. One Starbucks foe said that mom-and-pop cafes selling a little beer and wine here and there is one thing, and the caffeine colossus doing it is something entirely different.

“Small businesses need wine and beer sales to boost profits, and it can mean the difference between paying the rent or not. A multi-billion-dollar corporation does not need that,” said Esther Bell, owner of the West coffee shop on Union Avenue, who drew up the online petition. “Allowing Starbucks to have beer and wine will set a horrible precedent.”

Neighbors in attendance agreed.

“Starbucks does not need to come in and steal money away from small businesses or make Brooklyn a strip mall,” said manager Sarah Madges, who lives around the corner from the proposed Starbucks site, a storefront on N. Seventh Street between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street.

The Starbucks’s manager countered that the beans behemoth needs alcohol at the location to give Brooklyn’s special brand of customers more options when they are getting together.

“It is something special we are doing in certain markets,” said Nelson Daza. “People meet at Starbucks for meetings. Some choose a cup of coffee. Others might want an alcoholic drink.”

The community board committee said that the espresso empire did not show adequate proof it deserves an exemption to a rule that says booze purveyors must be good for the community to get licensed if they are within 500 feet of other such establishments.

“For the 500 foot rule, there has to be public interest for license to be granted,” said board member Tom Burrows. “This is telling us that there is not public interest.”

The full board will vote on whether to recommend the license on Oct. 20. The board’s decision is only advisory and the issue is ultimately up to the State Liquor Authority.

Starbucks sells alcohol in just 30 of its more than 20,000 stores, including in the Seattle, Portland, Southern California, Chicago, and Atlanta locations, as well as in airports in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. The incognito Starbucks inside a Macy’s store in Manhattan, which lacks Starbucks signage, also sells beer and wine. The coffee company opened its first Williamsburg location earlier this summer in the Karl Fischer building at the corner of Union Avenue and Ainslie Street.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf‌aro@c‌ngloc‌al.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitt‌er.com/‌Danie‌lleFu‌rfaro.

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