Almost a year and a half ago, Starbucks announced it was planning on building a new store on the property adjacent to the Blacksmith Restaurant on North Highland Avenue – just under three-tenths of a mile from locally owned coffeeshop, Turntable Coffee Counter. The announcement came to fruition last week when Starbucks opened its doors in Downtown Jackson.
When the announcement was made initially, immediate pushback against Starbucks ensued, with a whole lotta keyboard warriors (myself included) railing against the coffee conglomerate marking its territory in a part of Jackson that has thus far been spared from the inorganic pollution of corporate chains.
My first reaction was predictable. I made some pithy comments on Facebook about Downtown Jackson already having a coffee shop (Turntable, obviously), and the formulaic war of words began from each side of the socio-political aisle.
An oft-repeated line I kept seeing was some iteration of the following: “Competition creates innovation, and Starbucks will bring more people downtown, so Turntable should take advantage of that…if they’re good enough.”
The above comment wasn’t verbatim, but the spirit of the comment was seen repeatedly on my social media feed for a few days. After a while, I almost started to believe it myself.
There was nothing I could do to stop Starbucks from building a business in Downtown Jackson. Still, I did at least want to acknowledge that I thought there was something incredibly wrong with a multi-billion dollar chain opening their NINTH store in Madison County, with the latest one within walking distance of a locally owned coffee shop that had only been open in that area of town for a few months; that there was something unjust about the emerald monstrosity clogging up the area around the Farmer’s Market while selling bland coffee and pinkity drinkities.
My words fell on deaf ears and were most likely forgotten within minutes of being read. And, the dirt continued to move next to Blacksmith – smoothed and situated to lay a firm foundation. Surprisingly, as the structure of Starbucks was being built, I found myself not hating it. The design fit nicely with the other buildings downtown, and the entrance faced south rather than east, reminding me a little of how I enter Grubb’s every time I’m there. In fact, I realized I was even anticipating the opening of this Starbucks, and my daughter was sure as hell excited about it. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad after all.
I was almost convinced that a Starbucks situated downtown wouldn’t be that big of a deal until, thankfully, I snapped awake from my mental malaize – a cognitive shot of a Nitro Cold Brew for all you Starbucks junkies reading this.
The physical features that had lulled me into believing that this corporate giant would be gentle – the familiar layout of the entrance, the matching architecture of downtown – were the very facets that woke me up and made me realize that the most dangerous threats to our community’s culture are the ones that try so hard to assimilate; it’s what makes Jackson’s growth feel very concerning at times.
What makes the established businesses in Downtown Jackson beautiful is that they are full of character and have been organically grown. Some of those businesses were incubated in theLOCAL; some began in the heart of downtown. They each reflect the character of their owners and have traces of Jackson running through their properties and products.
The businesses and business owners of places like The Downtown Tavern, Turntable Coffee, Grounded Plant Co, Havner’s Frame Shop, Peppermint Addie’s, Third Eye Curiosities, and every other locally owned establishment within the heart of the city add an eclectic vibe to a resurgent and necessary area of our community – Downtown Jackson.
Not only do the businesses downtown have a culturally authentic vibe, but the housing in and around the downtown area and midtown Jackson does, as well.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint of architecture, the houses lining North Highland and splintering east and west into old neighborhoods – from the roundabout all the way to Westwood – always catch my eye as I drive north or south on Highland. The meticulous angles and attention to detail are unseen in most of the new builds north of the interstate. They’re also disappearing in the rebuilds and renovations that have started the last few years around The Lift.
In a world of “revitalization,” the housing assimilation in Jackson is hard to miss but easy to forget. These new homes have traces of the originals – front porches, curving verandas – but the homogeneity is both noticeable and numbing; we don’t realize it’s upon us until we’re surrounded by it – like a frog in a pot of tepid water with the temperature gradually and unnoticeably rising.
Art and culture – in all their various entities – are hard to quantify. There’s no bar graph or balance sheet that can directly and clearly explain the importance of those two things in a community; they’re ambiguous and oftentimes only apparent once they’ve disappeared.
I’ve attended art shows at Havner’s, an improv show at Turntable, and heard countless local musicians at the Tavern. Last week, Grounded Plant Co. hosted a Disco Night and next weekend, there will be Yoga at The Amp for anyone who wants to attend. These are the culture-building events in our community; these are the places where connections are formed. The value cannot and should not be measured in red or black but in the relationships formed in spaces grounded in Jackson.
I’m an unashamed fan of the musical film “La La Land.” I’ve seen it too many times to count, but a line that Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, utters in the first part of the movie has stuck with me for a long time, and feels apropos of the situation at hand.
As Sebastian and Mia (played by Emma Stone) discuss their own experiences in Los Angeles, Sebastian sums up his frustration with the city in the most succinct way when he says, “That’s L.A. They worship everything and value nothing.” I’ve been turning that line over and over in my head for the last few days.
I know what I value, and I know what I value might be different than what other people value. And that’s okay. I believe, however, that it’s easy to overlook those things that aren’t easily quantified. Our American culture values the dollar because it’s a necessary evil to live in a world where everything costs something. Please understand that I’m not saying money isn’t important because it absolutely is. What we have to hold in the front of our minds, though, is that there are equally important things that undergird the fabric of our community, and Starbucks ain’t one of those things.
Places like Turntable nurture the soul of a community. It’s where social communion takes place – the breaking of bread, the sipping of espresso. There’s no drive-through at Turntable because the value of the space is inside; it’s Anthony Kirk knowing what drink you want before you even have to say it. THAT is communal.
One Starbucks won’t doom the originality of downtown; one Starbucks won’t kill Turntable. What has to remain at the forefront of our minds, however, is that value is found in the places that have worked to build it within their walls; value is woven into the stories, layers, and history of the people creating community within Jackson, not in capitalistic chains hellbent on making an easy profit.
Let’s value authenticity and not worship fabrication. If we don’t, we’ll lose sight of what makes our communal space so unique.