A slow yielding of public to private spaces led to a tremendous opportunity for Starbucks in the early 1990s: not to sell coffee but to rent public space.
To rent a Starbucks public space you purchase a disposable token (a white Starbucks coffee cup) and place it near your person. The cup contains a complimentary drink. The tokens are uniform in outward appearance but can be filled with various liquids which are sold at different prices to allow the consumer to signal who they are. The liquids may be consumed.
It’s understandable that Starbucks would attempt to program a discussion of race throughout its chain of “public squares.” The effort failed but I bet they’ll try again, perhaps by allowing regional or individual stores to set the agenda and partnering with established brands.
I was reminded of Starbucks’ trade in public spaces by this short history of anti-theft devices in medieval libraries.
By way of analogy, the author asks : “Do you leave your e-reader or iPad on the table in Starbucks when you are called to pick up your cup of Joe?”
Mick Stevens, The New Yorker – December 1, 2015: