Kiosks brew paradise for coffee aficionados

Starbucks: A trio of kiosks at Long Gate Shopping Center make it easier for customers to satisfy their yearning for coffee.

Ellicott City

July 06, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Ellicott City's Long Gate Shopping Center may be a caffeine addict's stately pleasure dome.

From 6 a.m. in Safeway until 11 p.m. at Barnes & Noble and at Target in between, a Long Gate shopper is steps away from a Starbucks kiosk.

The coffee Xanadu at Long Gate may simply be a fluke of Starbucks marketing, but it isn't the only one. Nationwide, there are about 1,600 such Starbucks coffee bars within stores, quadruple the number in 2000, Starbucks officials said. Of Howard County's seven Starbucks, four are kiosks.

At Long Gate, the Target coffee bar is the newest Starbucks, added in the fall after the department store remodeled. Starbucks has aggressive growth plans, with coffee bars scheduled to open this fall in several locations including Glen Burnie and Columbia, regional manager Donald A. Buchanan said.

Because customers might visit supermarkets several times a week, "it gives us a huge exposure," he said.

And Starbucks' presence spurs impulse buys.

"We should buy stock in Starbucks," said Rose Perez, an Ellicott City resident who says she and her two children purchase drinks almost every day.

During a recent visit to Target, Perez sipped a flavored latte as her 11-year-old son, Michael, slurped a frozen blended drink topped with whipped cream as he careened through the store. "I was going only for the coffee, and it's like `come on, Mom,'" she said.

Maureen Sagi of Elkridge estimated that she buys something on impulse during nearly half of her visits and stops at the store to pick up an espresso drink after she drops her children off at school.

"Sure, I buy things I wouldn't normally," she said. "You always think of something when you're there."

Jim Borland of Ellicott City said the concentration of Starbucks at Long Gate is a running joke in his family. He said he has occasionally found himself walking through all of the center's big-box retailers, fueled by drinks from each Starbucks.

"I love coffee. I can be assured of getting coffee here," said Borland, who also buys ground beans at Safeway to brew at home.

Some people go to the stores specifically for a caffeine lift. Kurt Strasser treats the Safeway stand as a drive-through, picking up a large cup of coffee during his commute between his home in Frederick and his business in Greenbelt.

Buying at the stands can confer some benefits. Some shoppers use discount cards offered by host stores that are not available at Starbucks' retail shops. Barnes & Noble offers 10 percent discounts on everything in the store, including cafe purchases, with their $25 annual membership.

At Safeway, coffee drinkers wielding club cards get a free drink for every seven consumed. Because the offer doesn't limit the size or variety of the freebie, some consider it an opportunity to splurge, getting something larger and fancier than they usually do.

Long Gate's trio of coffee bars is not very visible. Although signs for the shops can be seen from Routes 100 and 29, there are no signs on the exterior of the Target store, for example, indicating Starbucks coffee is sold inside.

The lack of Starbucks signage pleases Perez. "I don't want signs up because I don't want the lines like at Barnes & Noble," Perez said. "It's like, `Don't let the secret out that it's there.'"

Many public officials want more Starbucks in their cities and towns. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has urged the company to open more stores in the city. And Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina heralded the opening of a Starbucks at the site of an abandoned service station as a sign of revitalization near the center of Towson.

"We're getting information from our customers that they'd like us to be convenient," said Lisa Pomerantz, a Starbucks marketing specialist in the Mid-Atlantic region. "We just want to be wherever the customers are going to be happy that we're there."

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