It’s a story as old as time– or as old as worries over hyper-gentrification, anyway: a Starbucks moves in across the street from a mom-and-pop coffee shop in an attempt to be the big-market bully and residents worry about the fate of the local spot. As another Starbucks opened in Brooklyn, this time on Bedford Avenue directly across the street from the nearly 10-year-old cafe and restaurant Five Leaves, your first instinct might have been to worry for the future of the beloved neighborhood fixture. But in a visit to both places last week, customers in Starbucks and Five Leaves seemed to shrug off any imminent apocalypse, making the case that both coffee spots could exist across the street from each other.
“I don’t think these two compete with each other at all,” said Matthew Siegel, who said he’s lived up the street for two years now. Siegel said he was there to take care of some work and had actually been to Five Leaves the previous day, whose food he called “consistently fantastic.”
The chain’s new location wasn’t much of an issue for him, though. “I’m a latecomer to the area and obviously a result of demographic shifts here so I don’t have any illusions about who I am or what I’m doing here. So a Starbucks being here doesn’t really bother me.” Siegel said a big plus for the Starbucks was its reliable internet, a relatable point for anyone who’s ever had to ask a barista to please reset the router if they wouldn’t mind.
The atmosphere at the Starbucks was, despite the Brooklyn location, what you might expect from any Starbucks. The large park-facing windows gave this outpost good light and a chance to watch people coming from and going into McCarren Park. A playlist heavy on Dave Matthews Band and other adult contemporary playing quietly in the background. Giving credence to Siegel’s point, the Starbucks food menu was the chain’s usual pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, with no kitchen in sight. But, that seems to be part of the Starbucks appeal.
“[Starbucks] is consistent in its quality,” Paul Kim told Bedford + Bowery as he sat in the shop with his friend Andy Hsu. The pair, who live in Clinton Hill, said they were taking a break from working at a nearby co-working space, and hadn’t spent a ton of time exploring the neighborhood yet.
“The coffee isn’t here,” Hsu said, raising a hand to the ceiling, “but it’s also not here,” lowering his hand towards the floor. “If we stay here long enough and learn the area, we’ll probably check out the local spots too,” he said.
As they waited for friends to join them, a teenage trio of Greenpoint locals said that they appreciated the coffee shop as a place to hang out, more so than non-chain coffee shops in the neighborhood. “There’s one place by Nassau Avenue, Brooklyn Standard. I’ve had the coffee before, but it’s not like a place where you can sit down like this. So I think this is more open and chill,” said Matthew Vazquez, who also called himself “a Starbucks kinda guy.”
Over at Five Leaves, the smaller space meant a more packed seating area, as a more typical “Brooklyn” crowd of tattooed and jorts-clad midday lunchers ate burgers and salads while loud dance music played. The crowd at the bar didn’t seem fazed by the arrival of the Starbucks, seeing the chain less as a Death Star and more as just another addition to Greenpoint. “Enough people in the neighborhood drink coffee,” said Jimmy Connolly, a nine-year Greenpoint resident. “The Dunkin Donuts has been there up the block for eight years and doesn’t affect the business here,” Connolly said. Connolly also pointed to Upright Coffee on Manhattan Avenue and Milton Street as a place he liked to go for the last five years, which has also done just fine despite the presence of a Starbucks nearby on Greenpoint Avenue.
There’s also the presence of a personal touch that plays in Five Leaves’ favor in the coffee war. “When I first moved here, and this is embarrassing, but I don’t really cook so I came here for every meal for a few weeks,” said Sarah Lannan, who’s lived up the street from Five Leaves for five years. “Then they started giving me a discount.” Lannan said there was some comfort in the consistent quality of Starbucks’ coffee, “like a Big Mac,” but also found the atmosphere at Five Leaves more in line with what she wanted. “Considering that this place is really loud and really crowded, those things alone make me want to go to a place,” she said.
Five Leaves will also be able to count on nine years of built up neighborhood goodwill as well. Tommy and Nikki Magers, a pair of siblings who were eating burgers at the bar, said that their tattoo artist recommended Five Leaves as a good post-tattoo burger spot. Tommy, from the Jersey suburbs, and Nikki, from Jersey City, both felt like the presence of the Starbucks wouldn’t do too much to sink Five Leaves.
The to-go window for coffee was an especially nice touch, according to Tommy, one that could help Five Leaves in the battle for morning coffee. “[Five Leaves] might not have an app where you can pre-order coffee, but it’s still very personal going to a to-go window, I like that,” he told Bedford + Bowery.
Sister Nikki said if she lived in Greenpoint, the Starbucks wouldn’t really tempt her the way it does closer to her Midtown office. But, she wondered for the future of tourists and non-locals who might be a little less adventurous than her and her brother. “I do feel like it might affect more of the tourist population,” she said. “If you’re not from here and you’re walking around and say, ‘Oh, there’s a Starbucks,’ you know what you’re gonna get. It’s decent coffee, so you’re gonna go in. You may or may not take a chance with your coffee. It’s just coffee after all, so you may not go into a hole in the wall spot.”