Starbucks makes me cringe. It tends to have that zero-personality Stepford-design feel layered with overly dramatic coffee orders, too many people desperate for caffeine and plain, smudged furniture.
So I was surprised when a friend who worked as a Starbucks barista from 2008-2012 told me she was trained to understand that Starbucks was pursuing a “Third Place” atmosphere during her time there. As in, one place is home, another is your place of work and your third place is wherever you hang out beyond that. Starbucks was designed to be the Third Place.
A 2012 article by Forbes contributor Alice Walton makes that business approach sound like a Jedi mind trick. “Some would say that it fills a psychological need that other companies have not had to do in quite the same way,” she wrote. “What’s interesting is that humans actually really need this place, and we’ve needed if for practically our whole existence, according to some.”
The Third Place mentality began in 1983 with Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman and chief executive officer. According to the company’s information page, “He had a vision to bring the Italian coffeehouse tradition back to the United States. A place for conversation and a sense of community.”
Well, there are at least 20 of those places in Charlotte to choose from.
On the whole, I don’t think the Starbucks franchise has managed to create that Third Place mentality. It needs more individualized decor and personality, more atmosphere, more of a reason to come through the doors than caffeine, snacks and WiFi.
But there are a handful in Charlotte that do have a decent ambiance, a hint of that Third Place vision:
If you’re looking for an expansive, light-filled Starbucks, this is the one. There’s a big community table if you’re feeling social enough to be in someone’s breathing space, plus high-backed booths and low-hanging lights. There are a ton of windows — and a patio outside.
The dark-stone floor and four leather chairs in the corner give the interior a slight rustic appeal, while the patio outside is all sun and scenery, facing the greenway.
Just off of Carmel Road, this location is tucked into a corner of the little shopping center. It combines what is good about Piper Glen and StoneCrest: four leather chairs and a community table. Plus, there are seats at the coffee counter and the walls are draped with more original-looking artwork. It feels like a little nook that would be good for deep thinking. (I was asked not to take a photo of the interior.)
This Starbucks sits on the first level of the two-story Barnes & Noble, and is integrated with the Barnes & Noble Cafe. Bordered by shelves of magazines and activity books, this hushed space feels just like a library quiet section.
This is pretty much the Starbucks jackpot in Charlotte, if that’s a thing. The multi-level space has couch-like seating, a community table, low lights, wood-paneled flooring, so many windows, and the patio is a dream.
Will the new Starbucks at Sharon Square and Carowinds fulfill our psychological need for a Third Place? We shall see.
Also, tweet photos of any Starbucks ambiance I missed @Charlotte_Five. I’m curious.