When I heard a rumor that there was a drive-thru Starbucks coming directly across the street from Cafe Stella, at first I didn’t believe it.
Ghent loves a good rumor. But then a quick poke around the City of Norfolk’s Planning Commission website proved it to be true.
Here is the application for the special exception. From the outdoor seating of Cafe Stella you can hit 2000 Colonial with a Frisbee.
“They need the special exception because of the drive-thru,” said Lori Crouch, Corporate Communications Director for the City of Norfolk. “Any drive-thru anywhere in the city needs one.”
And for good reason. Community happens when real live people interact with other real live people. We have to fight against a culture of drive-thrus, robotic automation, and all the other modern “advances” that are mainly advancing the bank accounts of property owners and stock holders, while pushing our human community farther and farther apart.
“You can’t have it both ways,” said the co-owner of Cafe Stella, Mariusz Pomianek. “You can’t be a historic, walkable neighborhood, and then have a drive-thru Starbucks.”
Plus, drive-thrus keep us in our cars and off our feet. Our car culture contributes to our obesity culture. According to the Virginia Department of Health, as reported by The Pilot, about 62 percent of residents in South Hampton Roads are technically overweight or obese. SIXTY-TWO PERCENT. That sounds like an epidemic to me. Looking at that number you don’t make one of the entire region’s most walkable neighborhoods less walkable. You just don’t.
“Mariusz and I are here to build a business, but also to help foster a community,” said Stella’s co-owner, Stella Pomianek. “Putting a Starbucks across the street… where people don’t get out of their cars and socialize and interact… for the convenience of grabbing a drink…”
In terms of disclosure, I should acknowledge that I am a big fan of Cafe Stella. A good deal of AltDaily gets written and published there. In many ways, there couldn’t be an AltDaily without places like Cafe Stella. If we aren’t interacting with our friends and neighbors, we are no longer embodying the spirit of the word community in a meaningful way. Third places–not home, not work, but someplace else we gather–are the glue of our face-to-face culture. I shudder at the thought of a world without them.
From what I understand the property owner, Jeff Cooper, of Corner Shops, LLC, has already met with the Ghent Business Association and the Ghent Neighborhood League. The next step is Planning Commission. The project was scheduled for late April, but has been pushed to May.
I reached out to Mr. Cooper for comment. Rather than call me back directly, he had his public relations representative, Joel Rubin, of Rubin Communications, call me back, telling me a traffic study had been done, but not much else.
Because who needs direct interaction in our community, right? There should be a drive-thru for that.
Update: If approved, this Starbucks could mean the closing of the Starbucks on 21st St., but it remains to be seen.