A green mermaid once sat on nearly every street corner in the District, but at least seven Starbucks locations have shuttered over the past four months.
Starbucks outposts in neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Chinatown and Downtown D.C. have closed their doors, and local coffee shops have begun to take their place. Workers at local coffee shops and students said more people may turn to coffee shops only found in D.C. and smaller chains for a more personal experience between customers and employees.
There are several local and small chain coffee shops within a 20-minute walk from campus, including Bourbon Coffee, La Colombe and Filter Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar. Coffee shops like a second Compass Coffee at 800 17th St. NW, Bluestone Lane in West End at 1100 23rd St. NW and a Philz Coffee in Dupont Circle at 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW have also popped up over the past year and a half.
A Starbucks located at 801 18th St. NW – just a few blocks off campus and less than a block away from two Compass Coffee locations – closed on April 1. On March 30, the location at 2300 Wisconsin Ave. also closed its doors, and locations at 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW, 21st and P Streets NW and 9th and G Streets NW shut down in December.
The closures are a result of Starbucks’ plan to close 150 stores nationally, according to Fortune.
A Starbucks spokesperson declined to say how many locations have closed in the District within the past year or if the chain will open more stores in D.C.
Abie Siegel, an assistant store leader at Philz Coffee, said customers may prefer the shop over Starbucks because employees focus on getting to know the store’s customers instead of making their coffee as quickly as possible. Philz Coffee serves each cup of coffee without the lid so customers can taste the drink and tell baristas if they like it, she said.
“People are looking for a personal experience, like having a barista you can talk to,” Siegel said. “It’s just not like when you go to a bigger place when you order at the register and you don’t know who’s making your coffee – it’s just passed down the line. We don’t do that.”
Micah Asis, an assistant manager at Bourbon Coffee, said students who frequent the shop may keep coming back because employees try to remember each customer’s order and get to know people who stop by for a drink.
“Especially with a lot of the students and people that you know come in every day – make them feel welcome, make them want to come back,” Asis said. “If you remember a customer’s drink, they say, ‘Oh they know me,’ so that’s what makes them constantly come back.”
In interviews, a dozen students said they prefer local chains or independent coffee shops to chains like Starbucks or Dunkin’ because of the welcoming atmosphere and quality of coffee.
Sally Kim, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said she often goes to Compass Coffee – which opened its first location in Shaw in 2014 – because baristas remember her and her order.
“When you go to Starbucks, you can go there every day but the baristas are always changing or it’s just like, ‘Hi, what are you ordering?’ and then you just get your coffee and go,” she said. “I love it when I go to Compass and they’re like, ‘Oh, want the usual?’”
Lauren Monk, a freshman majoring in math, said she travels a few times a week off campus to Philz Coffee in Dupont Circle, which opened in September. Monk said she prefers Philz Coffee to Starbucks because each customer’s order is taken by the same person who makes the drink, which ensures her drink is properly made.
“I feel like at a place like Starbucks, it’s just making the drinks as fast as possible and getting it out,” Monk said. “At smaller places, there’s more attention on you as a customer.”
More than half of the students interviewed said they would be more willing to walk the distance to local coffee shops farther off campus, like Compass Coffee or La Colombe, if GWorld was accepted. But some said they still buy drinks from Starbucks because it accepts GWorld and there are two located on campus.
Jason Lei, a freshman majoring in public health, said that while he is “sick and tired” of Starbucks and its “burnt coffee,” he still continues to go because he can use his GWorld dollars and he does not have to travel far for a cup of coffee.
“If a place like La Colombe was on GWorld, I would go there every day,” he said.
Sidney Lee and Liz Provencher contributed reporting.