THE BIGGEST MEDIA skirmish of the summer spawned from, of all things, a story about a little coffee shop on Capitol Hill. Well, not little exactly. When a Starbucks on 15th Ave gave up the ghost in June only to, a month later, rise from the crypt with a new name and looking all indie café (repurposed wood, ununiformed baristas with creative facial hair) but still under Starbucks ownership, the neighbors got restless, accusing Howard Schulz’s imperial drink-slinging army of co-opting the Hill aesthetic (see Nosh Pit, July 24, 2009).
The event drew out long-buried tensions between outlets in Seattle’s brittle mediascape. When a blogger from Capitol Hill Seattle (the self-described “hyper local blog”) traipsed past the shuttered ’Bucks and noticed it was metamorphosing into something called “15th Ave. Coffee & Tea,” CHS thought they had a scoop. But an unsourced “Hey, look” is hardly a story.
Other outlets did real reporting. Seattle Weekly’s Maggie Savarino observed that the shop looked strikingly like next-door neighbor Smith, a bar designed and owned by Seattle bar-scene sovereign Linda Derschang. The Seattle Times’s Melissa Allison made the first report that was actually sourced, detailing Starbucks’s plan to create a shop that looked like an independent coffeehouse.
Responding to that story, CHS, huffy about not getting cred for being the first to point out that something was up, accused the Times of copying. Aligning itself with indie co-opt victims like Victrola café and Smith, CHS asked “SBUX is to Victrola as the Seattle Times is to CHS?”
After the drama between CHS and the Times (of which the Times seems to have been largely unaware), it was SeattlePI.com writer Sara Kiesler who kicked it up a notch with her story entitled, “Neighbor: Starbucks stole my ambiance.” Kiesler slipped in that Derschang “hopes to give the designers a chance to make changes before even considering a lawsuit.” Derschang denied saying anything about a lawsuit, spurring SeattlePI.com’s rivals to tsk tsk about getting the facts wrong.
Conducting postbattle analysis like generals croaking voiceovers in a Ken Burns doc, Justin Carder, founding editor of CHS, and the _Times_’s Melissa Allison talked to us about what it all means. Carder: “We’re there”—on the Hill—“every day and can tell the story better and faster [than] big corporate newspapers.” Allison: “It’s important that we have people out there gathering information and reporting it with as much accuracy as possible.” Us: Does that Stealth-bucks still serve mocha frappuccinos with whipped cream and the little chocolates on top?