Starbucks work perks amid some bitterness

Annapolis coffee shop sets up in historic site

February 07, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Next month, a 3-foot Starbucks logo will adorn the historic Main Street facade where inside Revolutionary schemes were once traded over draughts of ale and cider.

The opening of the city's third outlet of the worldwide coffee chain in late March will cap a year of securing city approvals and renovations in the Maryland Inn - but it is not likely to decaffeinate the controversy.

For a few critics, including Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, another link of the worldwide gourmet coffee chain was about as welcome as the British Redcoats back in Washington's day. She called the idea "a missed opportunity for something really special."

Yesterday, Moyer softened her tone. "If it's an intimate historic coffeehouse, that might be a return to yesteryear," the mayor said. "One thing I know about Annapolis is we do like our coffee. Hopefully, it will once again be a meeting place."

The cozy spot, previously known as the King of France Tavern, was a regional venue where jazz legend Charlie Byrd and other musicians serenaded listeners in lively jam sessions.

Ed Brogan, general manager of the hotel property facing Church Circle and Main Street, said the construction work will retain the building's quaint architectural character.

"It will stay unique and offer a great cup of coffee," Brogan said.

In fact, he said, the site will be a brew of the old and the new, the 21st and 18th centuries cheek by jowl - people sipping lattes, frappuccinos and other beverages that Washington never heard of in the inn's brick-and-stone room. A sealed-off tunnel lends to its atmosphere.

In June, the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission gave the proposal a green light, contingent on some structural changes. The last requirement, now nearing completion, was constructing a handicapped access elevator in the 235-year-old structure. An archaeological dig showed the site was clear of valuable artifacts, city officials said.

One of nearly a dozen coffee shops in Annapolis, the site will be a licensed store, similar to those in airports and hotels, meaning it is not owned and operated by the Seattle-based conglomerate. The other Starbucks in the city are at the foot of Main Street and in the new 1901 West Street complex. A fourth is planned in Park Place, a $250 million residential-retail-hotel-arts complex under construction at Westgate Circle. There are three others just outside city limits, in two Safeways and in Westfield Annapolis mall.

Proponents such as Gregory Stiverson, former president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, pointed out that a coffee shop is true to the 18th-century spirit, a time when coffee-drinking was a pastime among men as they read newspapers, talked politics and watched ships come in - on both sides of the Atlantic.

Some like to point out that Starbucks has a touch of the past. It takes its company name from a character in the American literary classic Moby-Dick who was an inveterate coffee drinker.

But Stephen Duffy, who owns two City Dock Coffee shops in Annapolis with his sister Kerry, said he finds another Starbucks store contradictory to the city's spirit.

"Chains are chains," Duffy said. "Six or seven Starbucks in what we tout as a historic charming town doesn't sit well."

"How is that in keeping with a historic building in a historic city?" he added.

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