Starbucks says these L.A. stores are too unsafe to operate. Not everyone buys that

Starbucks says these L.A. stores are too unsafe to operate. Not everyone buys that

Anna Gonzalez grabs a coffee at the Starbucks on 2nd Street in downtown Los Angeles across from her office most workdays, a favorite part of her morning routine.

She admits the store two blocks from the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters and City Hall is surrounded by a growing unhoused population and struggles with petty crime. But she and other customers were disappointed and slightly alarmed to learn it was one of six locations in the L.A. area and 10 locations in other major cities the coffee giant said this week was closing because of safety issues.

“Everyone in there is really sweet, but it is kind of dicey around here,” Gonzalez said, leaving the downtown store Wednesday morning with her iced vanilla latte. “It’s only going to get worse without the business.”

As Starbucks have proliferated in the last decades, the stores have become more than just a place for a quick caffeine fix for many neighborhoods. Their iconic forest-green siren logo is a welcome sign for people across demographics and income brackets — a spot for business meetings, remote workers, first dates or a free cup of water and bathroom visit for those in need — and some worry the closures signal greater challenges for the region.

Having your go-to Starbucks shut is bad enough. But many customers at the six locations targeted for closing said it is unfair to conclude the stores are “unsafe to continue to operate,” as Starbucks put it.

“I’m upset. I can’t get coffee!” Liz Venz said outside the Starbucks on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street set to close. “You can’t walk to work, you can’t live comfortably and nothing’s being done about it. … It’s not a good neighborhood anymore.”

The Los Angeles-area stores slated for closure are at:

  • Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street
  • Santa Monica Boulevard and Westmount Drive in West Hollywood
  • 1st and Los Angeles streets (inside the DoubleTree hotel)
  • Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue
  • Ocean Front Walk and Moss Avenue in Santa Monica
  • 2nd and San Pedro streets

While many Starbucks customers, like Venz, said they understood the safety concerns given the worsening homelessness crisis and a recent uptick in crime, some questioned the decision — and its reasoning.

Chris Muncey, a city employee who was grabbing coffee Wednesday at the 1st and Los Angeles streets location in downtown L.A. that also is planned for closure, said safety concerns were a “palatable excuse” if there were really financial or other reasons for Starbucks to close.

In a statement from Starbucks, officials referenced drug use and threatening behavior as reasons for the closures but were not more specific. They plan to reopen at “new locations with safer conditions.” Starbucks plans to transfer employees to other locations, according to the Associated Press.

However, other Starbucks stores sit no more than half a mile away from each outpost slated to close. In some cases, nearby stores that will remain open are just a block away, seemingly affected by the same safety situations.

An employee who has worked at the two downtown locations slated to close called the closures baffling despite the incidents she has experienced.

“There [are] countless times that I have been yelled at, cursed at, thrown things and harassed,” said the employee, who requested anonymity because staff were directed not to speak to reporters.

In one encounter, a person entered the store demanding food and coffee. Staff told him to enter the line, but he refused and “just kept yelling,” she said.

“He eventually just asked for hot water and when we did — as we give those free of charge — he proceeded to throw the cup of hot water to the partner that was at [the] register,” she said in an email to The Times. The employee suffered burns to his chest and hands.

Most times, outside security is “not much help,” while police “more than half the time did not even show up,” she said.

Managers would fill out internal incident reports and told the employee the company would possibly “hire a [store] security guard.”

But that did not happen, she said.

“[After] all these years of dealing with unsafe situations … the solution Starbucks has come up with is closing down the stores,” she said, adding that employees were given only two options: transfer or quit without severance pay.

None of the L.A. stores that will close had formed unions, but two of the Seattle stores set to close had voted to unionize and one of the Portland, Ore., locations had petitioned to hold a union vote, according to a statement from Starbucks Workers United.

“Every decision Starbucks makes must be viewed through the lens of the company’s unprecedented and virulent union-busting campaign,” the organization said in a statement. “It is simply not credible for the company to argue that this was not a response to the growing union movement spreading across the country.”

The company has waged contentious battles over unionizing at its stores and has been accused multiple times of illegally firing union organizers during a recent wave of union campaigns across the country. Starbucks officials, though, have said the recent closures are not related to unionization efforts, calling the move “part of our business operations.”

In West Hollywood, locals call the store that sits along Santa Monica Boulevard the “Big Gay Starbucks.” Over the years, it had become a popular gathering spot for locals shopping at the nearby Trader Joe’s or coming out of the 24-Hour Fitness.

“It’s definitely a shock to the community,” West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem Sepi Shyne said.

City officials had heard from Starbucks officials about safety concerns recently, she said, such as calls about customers being abusive to workers or transients inside and outside the store prompting calls to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Workers were concerned about how long it took for deputies to respond at times, Shyne said, and had requested additional patrols from Block by Block ambassadors — a company contracted by the city that patrols the commercial area and reports crime to law enforcement.

“We’ve seen an uptick of reports of aggressive behavior in the area, and we are working with our community safety partners to respond,” West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister said in an email.

According to crimemapping.com, which maps crime reports from the police and sheriff’s departments, the area around the West Hollywood store has had 18 calls in the last seven months, including six for assault.

Michael Sochirca, who works private security for the building on 2nd and San Pedro streets in Little Tokyo, including the Starbucks set to close, said he often has to kick people out of the coffee shop.

“It’s always the same thing — with Starbucks, it’s almost a daily thing,” Sochirca said. “There’s been a couple things happening there. …Theft and homelessness and stuff like that, but from what I know, nobody ever got hurt in there.”

He referenced a recent incident in which the Starbucks was evacuated after a man outside had a gun, but he said police responded and the store wasn’t directly affected. The LAPD was unable to immediately confirm the incident or provide more detailed crime data.

According to the crime mapping software, the area around that store and the other downtown Starbucks that will close — which sit on opposite corners of the same block between 1st and 2nd streets not far from LAPD headquarters — has seen 77 calls to police since January. Most have been for theft and other property crimes, but 12 were for assault.

Increased crime rates across the country, particularly violent crime in large cities, have become a hot-button political issue, and pundits were quick to point at the store closures as an indictment of Democratic policies in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle and Washington, D.C., where the closures were announced.

The right-wing Daily Caller’s Steve Hilton blamed “woke” policies, or progressive criminal justice reforms, and on Fox News’ morning show “Outnumbered,” former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany centered the blame on Democratic leaders.

“Until you fix the problem up here with elected officials that happen to hail from the left and blue states, you’re not going to fix the problems in the streets, and the businesses are leaving,” she said Wednesday during a segment on the coffee shops.

Meister said West Hollywood officials have been looking for ways to address some of the safety concerns.

“We’ve seen an uptick of reports of aggressive behavior in the area, and we’re working with our community partners to respond,” she said. “This trend is not limited to West Hollywood; it’s all over the region.”

Anthony Flores, a city employee who was buying a matcha latte at the downtown Starbucks closest to City Hall, said it was a shame the store was closing.

“Personally, I have not seen that,” Flores, 31, said, referencing safety concerns. “It’s downtown, so it kind of comes with the territory, if there is such a thing.”

Theft and other property crimes also have surrounded other targeted coffee shops in the last year, crime data showed. At Hollywood and Vine, the tourist-filled area surrounding the Starbucks has had 101 calls for service since January, 14 of them for assault.

Chris Dembo, 19, often visits that Starbucks to see friends who work there. They recently told him that challenging customers, some mentally unstable, had made running the store difficult.

“They understand that it has to be done,” Dembo said. He declined to connect The Times with the employees he referenced.

A woman visiting Hollywood from Florida noticed the TV cameras lined up along the Walk of Fame on Wednesday and stopped to ask what had happened, worried she missed something dangerous.

But upon finding out the issue was a soon-to-be-closed Starbucks, she laughed, then directed her three kids down the busy street to continue their sightseeing.


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