For most, the coffee at Forest Park’s first Starbucks is just coffee. Sure, it comes in a few more varieties and can be topped with whipped cream, and yes, you order a grande instead of a large, and of course you might have to break a five dollar bill instead of a single, but when it comes down to it, it’s just a hot beverage that gives you a caffeine jolt in the morning.
But for some who have watched closely as Madison Street has grown from bars to boutiques, last week’s opening of Forest Park’s first Starbucks represents more than that. It’s a sign that the neighborhood has grown up, and is now officially on the radar, not just for Chicagoans looking for a good restaurant without a two hour line but for national chains looking for a new location.
“We’re on a roll now and this is one more thing to keep the ball rolling,” said Dorothy Gillian of the Main Street Association. Gillian is confident that Starbucks will not only bring new business into Forest Park, but new residents as well.
“When there’s a Starbucks it tells people it’s OK to move there…they know that (Starbucks) did their homework before they moved in, so they saw ‘we can too.'”
Though Forest Park’s Starbucks will look familiar to anyone who has visited any of the chain’s other stores before, its managers say that their goal is to strive for local involvement and leave a unique imprint on the community.
“I get the feeling that Forest Park is really community oriented,” said Manager Nikki Zimmerman, who previously managed a Starbucks in Western Springs. “I hope we bring a sense of community pride.”
She said that Starbucks’ will earn its place in the community in two ways: First, by becoming a “third place” for regular customers who stop at Starbucks in between work and home each day.
By getting to know regular customers, she hopes, the store will be able to shed the perception of just being another link in a huge chain and instead become a part of the lives of local residents.
Second, she said, Starbucks will become involved in local charitable causes and volunteer efforts. They’ve already arranged to donate leftover coffee to the Howard Mohr Community Center, and will encourage employees to come forward with their own ideas for charitable work, which can be funded through grants from the company.
Though Starbucks is sometimes met with some hostility due to the perception that they bring with them a yuppie invasion that will drive the little guys out of town, local residents and business owners seem to be warmly welcoming the coffee shop to Madison Street.
“I’m so happy about it. I think it’s going to bring a lot of business to the block…it means that the neighborhood has arrived,” said Amy Pokraw, owner of the Prep Kitchen.
George Washington, who works down the block at the Veterans Services of Illinois, agreed. He said that Starbucks would bring new revenue into Forest Park, some of which would come out of the his pockets and those of his coworkers. “It’s going to be a booming business. Starbucks is real hot in Chicago, and now it’s going to be hot in Forest Park.”
Mark Buckley, who moved to Forest Park from Oak Park three years ago, said that he is not surprised that Starbucks decided to move into the neighborhood.
“It has a lot to do with the business owners and the facelift of the street,” he said. “Starbucks knew exactly where to go.”
Starbucks District Manager Larry Mims agreed. “Everybody thought it was the right time for Starbucks to open. Forest Park is a growing area ” it’s a win ” win situation for everyone involved,” he said.
Even other coffee servers don’t seem to mind the competition. Art Sundry, owner of Caffe de Lucca, has said that though he feared a loss of business when Starbucks opened near his Bucktown location, the negative effect never came and he now welcomes Starbucks to Madison Street.
Mayor Anthony Calderone, who expressed his desire to see Starbucks remain in Forest Park for a long time during the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon, said that he is a “longtime customer” of Starbucks and is thrilled to finally have a store in town.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, he seemed impressed with the look of the store. Though the color schemes and modern artwork that decorates the walls are similar to other Starbucks stores, the Forest Park location in Madison Commons is enhanced by floor to ceiling windows on two sides, several outdoor tables and a large indoor seating space.
“It’s a very impressive store ” it’s a cheerful, bright, lively and neat place,” he said.
Calderone also acknowledged the symbolic value of having Starbucks in town. “Having Starbucks call Forest Park home is a monumental statement that Forest Park has come leaps and bounds over the years,” he said.
For some, of course, symbolism is secondary to a good cup of coffee.
“I would always go to Oak Park for (Starbucks) coffee ” it’s great to have one near home,” said 10 year Forest Park resident Anne Williams. “I’ve been waiting a long time.”
Zimmerman, the store’s manager, wears a special apron that designates her as a “coffee master,” and said that about 55,000 blends of coffee can be created with the ingredients in a Starbucks store.
Though she said she was not a coffee drinker when she first started working for Starbucks about four years ago, she can now distinguish between Samatra coffee, an Indonesian blend, and Breakfast Blend, which comes from a mix of Latin American coffee beans, by scent alone. She is even able to recommend the right pastry to eat with each blend ” Samatra goes best with a chocolate brownie, while the Breakfast Blend accentuates the flavors in lemon bread.
She said she hopes to hold regular “coffee tastings” at the store at least once a month.
“It’s like wine tastings,” she said. “There are different varieties of grapes and different varieties of coffee.”
Starbucks opened on Friday at 5 a.m., and will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 a.m. until midnight.