Howard Schultz should have listened to me.
A decade ago, I wrote a book stating that one of New York City’s most notorious and persistent municipal problems — the lack of public restrooms — has been partially solved by the private sector, and one company in particular: Starbucks. At least that was the case in my neighborhood: Each afternoon, the Starbucks in Park Row and Beekman had ten or twenty long lines to the toilet, mostly European tourists carrying 21st-century shopping bags – it must have said it in a guide book somewhere.
It was a classic case of the private sector creating a public good while attracting new customers. But the public sector also has to make its contribution when it comes to basic services such as public safety. Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, is a lifelong advocate of the kind of sentimental urban progressivism that has helped transform the public spaces of cities like Portland and Philadelphia — and, unfortunately, New York — into part-time shelters for the homeless and makeshift mental hospitals.
And now his business is paying the price for it.
Just a few years after the coffee chain opened all of its bathrooms to the general public in a grand gesture of social justice, the coffee chain is closing stores across the country — mostly in large, progressive, Democrat-run cities — because the locations have become too dangerous for customers and employees. Homeless people camp in the toilets or make crazy scenes in the cafes. So many junkies use Starbucks toilets to shoot that the company has been forced to install needle disposal boxes in some of its stores — Welcome to Portland! – and the staff who understandably had to clean up that mess about possible exposure to HIV and hepatitis.
Here are two things that don’t go together very well: 1) selling caffeinated milkshakes for six dollars a cup and 2) hepatitis.
Schultz, who describes himself as a “lifetime Democrat” and who is a strong advocate for the issues that the Starbucks CEO would care about — gay marriage, climate change, etc. — has toyed with running for president a few times to run for office, and pledged policies based on a “deep measure of compassion and empathy for the American people.”
But what Americans need from their government is not compassion and empathy. Americans need safe streets, clean and tidy public places, effective law enforcement, and safety in their people and property. You don’t get that from Kshama Sawant and the Seattle City Council‘s Socialist Alternative crackpots — it’s what you get from hard-nosed hands-on city guides, like Rudy Giuliani used to be before he decided to become Donald Trump’s drunken monkey butler .
They’re closing five Starbucks stores in Seattle, the chain’s hometown — and so far they’re not closing any in Provo, Utah. There’s a reason for that.
This is rumored to be a covert campaign against union organizers in Starbucks stores, but I think Schultz is beginning to understand, in a practical way, what democratic governance means for a big city: He laments that the local governments involved are “assuming their responsibilities have evaded” when it comes to law enforcement and mental health. Yes, you have.
But also Howard Schultz, who was urged to humbly apologize after Starbucks employees in Philadelphia refused to use the cafe’s restroom to two men who hadn’t bought anything. The men were black and were arrested when they refused to leave. Starbucks apologized, changed its restroom policy, fired the employee who called the police, and paid the two men an undisclosed sum. That said, Starbucks has endured exactly the kind of nonsensical woke culture policies that are ruining the cities where Starbucks is now being forced to close stores.
Portland and Seattle won’t enforce order in their cities — and Starbucks won’t enforce the rules in its own stores because it puts the company on the wrong side of the sophomoric social justice sensibilities that Howard Schultz sadly shares.
Awakened capital plants the seeds of its own destruction – and cowardice is its own punishment.
Kevin D. Williamson is the author of Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the Real America.