Thursday, January 17, 2008

A unique coffee experience

I love coffee shops. For health reasons, I mostly drink decaf or good old tea.

I started to frequent coffee shops when I lived in Salt Lake City. They are a gathering place for writers, professionals, students and people who just want a place to hang out.

I have never been a fan of Starbucks - there is just no ambience there.

Today, I had an exchange which reminded me once more why we need to watch where we spend our dollars as consumers.

The Hartsdale train station is abuzz with commuters in the morning hours. Some stop at Starbucks, put a dollar in the tip jar, sip their $7 Caramel Macchiatto's and go about their day. Others stop at Hartsdale Cheesery - Coffee is less than $2 and this morning, I ate a croissant with brie cheese. As I discarded my remains, I noticed a basket near the coffee and inquired of the owner whether that would be an appropriate place to leave a tip - everyone has a tip jar don't they? Being new to the city, I am learning that some places expect a tip even if one is not dining in the establishment. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the owner of this locally-owned business of some 30 years indicate that he has never had a tip jar and pays his staff accordingly.

My research moments later at Starbucks led me to learn that they are hiring again at about $7 an hour - one is eligible for health insurance after 3 months of employment and the employee pays 20% of the premium. In the city of New York, Starbucks pays their employees some $10 an hour - what are they doing with all their profits? I know that they provide free coffee to community organizations - a one-time $50 limit. I do not know whether that is the $7 coffee or the $3 coffee. Their CEO has recently been reinstated to curb premature growth in the company and is trying to stabilize the growth accordingly. I wonder whether he has forgone his stock options - I imagine that they are more than $7 a share. In fact, an employee told me that they are around $35 a share - why can those profits not be translated into living wages for employees? I received a gift card to Starbucks and returned it to the store today - I am sure that there is someone in there who needs it more than me. My conscience speaks to me on a higher plane these days - for that I am thankful.

President Bush claims that he has the desire to reign in the exhorbitant compensation packages for CEOs. My question for him is does he have the political will to do so? There is not much that this man has done that makes me proud, but if he can pull this one off, I for one will give him kudos - that and the peace accord in Israel - or is that a pig out my window?

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