spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Smashed glass at Starbucks/Alison R.
Until the police release their final report, we won’t know how the glass was broken, if it shattered from multiple kicks, a brick or the intruder used a hammer.

As I crossed the Safeway parking lot on my way to the Starbucks on Fillmore and O’Farrell, Doug, a regular who sits next to me at the counter, met me in the Safeway parking lot and said don’t bother going to Starbucks. Go to Safeway instead because Starbucks won’t open.

I could have done as Doug suggested, but I wanted to see for myself why my usual morning routine was spoiled, if the store wasn’t open and wouldn’t be open and if not, why not. So we walked over and I read for myself the handwritten sign on the front door: “Closed because of an incident.”

That could have meant anything. I had watched April earlier in the week stare down a potential thief and order  her to get in line if she wanted to buy something. The woman had been standing near the sandwiches for some time. I have no store smarts so didn’t guess the woman had anything on her mind but ordering a tall coffee and gazing at the glazed donuts. To me, abberant behavior means customers are probably off their meds.

But April sees her job as protecting the store, so she sees loitering by the open food displays while yelling out an order for a drink from a distant coffee spigot as a theft in the making.

Based on having witnessed the shouting match that ensued between the polite yet firm April and the enraged would-be thief, I imagined a payback kind of incident wherein April is possibly accosted and Chang or Kim have to subdue the angry interloper, etc. etc.

But I put that story on hold after walking around the building and seeing the shattered glass. Half a door remained. Through a side window I could see a policeman dusting the counter for prints. When I caught April’s eye, I raised my shoulders to ask what had happened, if everyone was all right and when were they planning to reopen.

She shrugged in response but gestured that she would make my usual beverage for me and bring it outside the front door. By this time, quite a crowd had gathered, and I had become a spokesperson on the basis of exchanging shrugs with April and having seen for myself the smashed glass.

Pretty soon the entire Starbucks crew came out the front door with trays of coffees for everyone, saying it’s free and we are sorry for inconveniencing you. April handed me my double short soy latte.

When one of the other regulars reached into his pocket to pay, April said, “Derrick, your coffee is free.” That she knew his name and fixed him what he liked impressed me because Derrick is homeless and sleeps in the vicinity of Fillmore and O’Farrell. Moreover, he hasn’t always come into the store medicated. 

Meanwhile Kim, the manager, brought out creamers and an assortment of sugar and sugar substitutes plus stirring sticks for anyone who didn’t take their coffee black.

We learned that besides a showcase of coffee blends in disarray, nothing was taken, not even the few dollar bills from the tip jar. In the back, boxes had been thrown, as if the thief or thieves were looking for something.  April said because too many people who worked in the store touched objects and surfaces, fingerprints would yield no clues.

And I learned what I already knew, even if Starbucks does not have the best coffee and the décor of every store is basically the same, this particular coffee shop is a community. No one working for a paycheck is required to treat other people with kindness. Whether biblical: Do unto others or Buddhist: practice loving-kindness, or just good business sense, the result that cold morning was the same.

By the following morning, the door had been boarded up and the store opened at its usual 5:30 a.m. When I showed Chang, part of the Saturday crew, pictures of the shattered door and the trays of coffee set out on tables for those of us who couldn’t be regulars that morning, he was impressed. “Not many businesses would do that,” he said. And though no expert, I had to agree.

Gregory Jon Rittger
1/30/2012 05:32:08 am

Definitely good business-smarts, in the business of spreading goodwill and positive karma.

Guy Rittger
2/6/2012 05:09:05 am

This is also my own experience at the local Starbuck's, here in Southbury, CT. And while I would be remiss not to acknowledge management's role in making the store an hospitable place to sip coffee while perusing world events on one's TouchPad, or conversing with friends, it is really the staff who enable the communal experience. I don't know every barrista by name, but I know most of them, and we always talk about our lives while beverages are being prepared. During the holiday season, we drove up to Waterbury to watch one barrista, a young woman named Jeanette, perform with her college choral group. We all sat in a pew and waved enthusiastically at her as she took her place on the risers.

I'm getting to know the regular customers better, as well, but prefer talking to the employees, for the most part. There's something quite encouraging about how this corporate "third space", tucked away in an otherwise non-descript strip mall, along Interstate 84, has become an oasis of congeniality and good vibes, in such an over-commercialized world.

Comments are closed.