Seattle: Its Coffee and Its Livability

What might have been a business story about the failure of a local coffee chain - and not a small one at that - to compete against the mighty Starbucks becomes more of a description of what Seattle is all about, and urbanity plays a major role.
October 25, 2012, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The bankrupt, Seattle-based 200-store chain in the western U.S. is Tully's, which had been purchased by Green Mountain coffee in Oct, 2008. In addition to comparing the two chains - and why Tully's couldn't compete with the ubiquitous Starbucks, Kirk Johnson explores how coffee took-off in Seattle, of all places.

"Why Seattle became synonymous with coffee at all... is a chicken-and-egg question if ever there were one. Did coffee become huge here because the place so needed stimulants - a chemical restorative to the gloomy damp - or was it on some level a marketing creation that became real over time by force of repetition?

The ‘idea of Seattle' was, and is, an idea of urban livability that lives on in the DNA of every upscale coffee retailer, whether they think of it that way and acknowledge it or not," said James Lyons, a senior lecturer in the English department at the University of Exeter in England and author of "Selling Seattle," a book about how Seattle identity and Seattle products, from coffee to grunge music, was harnessed together for fun and profit."

"Every time I see a new, independent coffee store opt for outfacing window seating, so you can sip your latte and watch the world go by, the store owes a debt to Starbucks and its origins in Seattle," Dr. Lyons said in an e-mail.

For Tully's patrons - according to President and CEO Scott Pearson, "the company wil continue to operate and hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection next year".

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Published on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 in The New York Times - U.S.
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