Starbucks to build drive-thru in Exeter

By Reggie Ellis

At the Aug. 24 Exeter City Council City Planner Greg Collins finally answered the rumors of a popular new business moving into town.

"We have received plans for a strip mall in southwest Exeter and we will be working with them to move forward," Collins. "Yes, it does include a Starbucks."

Collins said the strip mall will be located near the corner of Belmont and Visalia Road just east of Burger King. Collins said the city has specific design elements it will require the developer to meet, however he said the developer is looking to begin the project as soon as possible.

There seemed to be a general caffeinated buzz around the room, but for several local businesses the news is a real downer.

Exeter currently has two coffee houses and one on the way. The Wildflower Cafe, 121 S. E St., just celebrated its sixth anniversary in Exeter. Owner Jennifer Davis said the atmosphere at Starbucks and at the Wildflower are different enough to attract different crowds.

"We offer a great lunch, live music every Friday night and a beautiful setting," Davis said. "Starbucks all kind of look the same. I think a lot of the younger kids will go to Starbucks because it is a name they recognize."

Davis said the Wildflower offers a small town experience, where you can sit down and strike up a conversation with people you know. While Starbucks has a cult, the Wildflower has culture, supporting the Cultural Arts Council, local artists, gallery shows, theater productions, holds an open mic night and even belly dancing. Starbucks may be internationally known for coffee but the Wildflower has its own claims to fame.

"One woman drove two hours just to have our Wildberry Ice Tea," Davis said. "Another woman called just this morning and I helped her find day care for her children. That's the difference. We are much more personal."

Davis said the girls that work at the Wildflower make a point to be friendly, know the customer's name, know what they like and even have a casual conversation.

"A lot of customers have included the Wildflower in their daily routine and we would hope that wouldn't change with a Starbucks in town," she said.

Davis also said Starbucks may not be a bad thing. She said corporate locations are open later and may give kids in Exeter somewhere to hang out after other shops close down.

"In all honesty, you may even catch me in the drive-thru if I am heading to Visalia at 11 p.m. at night," she said. "At that time where else are you going to get coffee?"

While the Wildflower has diversification and distance to protect its piece of the coffee cake, another Exeter coffee house has to do business down the street from the espresso empire that boasts more than 7,500 locations worldwide. More than Java, which opened earlier this year at the corner of Orange Avenue and Belmont Road, has turned an eyesore into a great looking drive-thru coffee shop in a prime location to catch those commuting between Visalia and Exeter. However, Starbucks is planning its own drive-thru and has a million-dollar marketing machine that converts millions each year. Owner Daniel Hudspeth was unavailable for comment, but another Exeter resident, John Mulcahy, warns him to prepare for the worst, at least initially.

Mulcahy is the owner of Visalia Coffee Co. at 129 E. Main St. in Visalia. Four years ago Starbucks moved in across the street. Mulcahy said in the first year he lost nearly half of his business and in the past four years has only recovered a third of that.

"One coffee house in the downtown area closed down and another never recovered," he said.

Another drive-thru coffee shop is under construction at Clarence Street and Highway 65. The owner could not be reached for comment, but Mulcahy said they will also feel the influence of Starbucks brand names such as Frappuccino and Macchiato.

"Frappuccino is a name that Starbucks made up," he said. "There is no such thing as a Frappuccino, it is another name for an iced blended coffee. Kids just think Starbucks is a cool. They go right past a place that has what they want just to get the same thing at Starbucks."

A Macchiato is a shot of espresso with steamed or foamed milk on top.

Mulcahy said the only way to compete with Starbucks is to diversify. He said places like the Wildflower will lose some of their coffee business but the lunch and special events should help them survive. He said he will begin serving beer and wine, offer a small menu of food and be open later hours, all in an effort to reclaim the business lost to Starbucks.

"Two people can get beer or a smoothy at the same place. That's my angle."

Comedian Lewis Black once said, "At the end of the universe and it is in Houston. If you walk down this block there sits a Starbucks. And directly across the street - in the exact same location as that Starbucks - there is another Starbucks. There is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks! And ladies and gentlemen, THAT is the end of the universe."

It begs the question, can anything other than Starbucks survive next to a Starbucks?

Exeter will have to wait and see.

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