The Starbucks Solution

Mike Sheldrake figured he was dead when Starbucks opened two stores near his indie coffeehouse. Now his business is up 40 percent.

Martin Diedrich, the son of company founder Carl, fills a position known as Chief Coffee Officer these days. He was not quoted in any of the stories about the company that bears his name.

Meanwhile, back on Belmont Shore, there's a palpable concern for the future of Second Street's small businesses. It has manifested in many ways, from a citizens-based letters-to-the-editor campaign to the nine-month 1998 city moratorium on the introduction of new restaurants. The just-added newsrack at Polly's Gourmet Coffee is kind of a symbol of what's at stake—the rack came out of Dodds Book Store, which just closed after 34 years in business.

Phibbs is concerned, too, but he's not sentimental. "I'm in favor of people supporting small businesses, but those businesses have to deserve support," he says. "Some people who own their own business think it's an entitlement. They say, 'I want to be my own boss. I want to be able to do what I want.' But the absentee ruler went out with the castle. Somebody else is paying for that business, and that somebody is the customer."

Sheldrake, once so fatalistic about his own prospects, has latched on to Phibbs' philosophy. He's a realist, which he says makes him something of an optimist.

"The future of the small businessman is very much in his own hands," he says, waving his hands to emphasize his revitalized shop and taking a deep whiff of roasting coffee beans. "We have so many weapons to fight against the big guys that they don't have, can't use or just don't know about. We can produce a superior product, we can offer greater variety, we can give better service, and we can create a location that is more interesting. And in the process, we can redevelop a sense of community. That's what we're all looking for, anyway."

Meanwhile, across the street and a few blocks down from Polly's Gourmet Coffee, a corner shop that for years was a dark and brooding little coffeehouse called Midnight Espresso is being renovated for the next arrival in the Belmont Shore business family. The awaiting tenant? The newest link in the 45-store chain of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which opens this week.

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