South Berkeley Starbucks closes more than 4 years after controversial opening


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Updated 1/2/18: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from a Starbucks spokesperson.

The South Berkeley Starbucks location permanently closed its doors Sunday, 4 1/2 years after its controversial opening in 2014.

In 2013, news that Starbucks would open a location on the corner of Telegraph and Ashby Avenues garnered controversy from community members who wanted to preserve local family businesses, according to Berkeleyside. People opposed to the possibility of the new cafe said they believed the emergence of corporate chains including Starbucks would take business away from smaller local cafes.

The Bateman Group and Berkeley resident Jim Smith collected 1,500 signatures aimed to appeal the permit that granted Starbucks permission to begin construction on its new location. The appeal claimed that the Starbucks’ opening could threaten local businesses and cause traffic and parking issues.

After the Zoning Adjustments Board denied the appeal, Berkeley City Council voted against issuing a permit for the new Starbucks location. Eventually, Starbucks was granted permission to build its new storefront, though the company was given a significantly smaller space to rent out than it had originally applied for.

Supporters of the coffee shop Mokka, which was located two blocks away from the Starbucks, launched a campaign titled “Save Mokka” aimed at supporting smaller businesses that were threatened by the incoming Starbucks location. Mokka eventually closed in 2016 because it was unable to stay in business due to an increase in the city’s minimum wage, according to Berkeleyside.

“Telegraph was the hub of entertainment and food and I find now that they’re closing a lot of the businesses there,” said Berkeley activist and community senior citizen Richie Smith. “In my experience, it’s more like a ghost town for businesses, for entertainment — and that should not be. I think it’s a travesty.”

A Starbucks spokesperson said in an email that all Starbucks partners who worked at the Telegraph location have been transferred to a different, nearby location. She also encouraged community members to visit other Starbucks locations in the area.

The other five Starbucks locations scattered throughout Berkeley plan to remain open, according to Berkeleyside.

Some community members, including Andrew Lazarus, who works near the South Berkeley Starbucks, said they will miss having the cafe. Lazarus, who spoke to Berkeleyside, said the location was his go-to spot for tea, pastries and lunchtime sandwiches.

“I’ll miss it, as I also liked that they would let you read the paper without buying,” Lazarus told Berkeleyside. “It’s not life-altering though. It is, however, the wrong time of the year for employees to get laid off.”

Though some community members said they have benefitted from Starbucks’ presence, others strongly opposed its development.

With the closure of the Telegraph location, Smith said the community should decide what will take its place.

“They should consult with the community,” she said. “What does the community want to see there? Check with the resident. That’s what’s important.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.