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may 31, 2018 - Starbucks

Closing stores, opening hearts: Starbucks partners share their responses to anti-bias sessions

SEATTLE — Barista Loni Stubblefield walked through the lobby of a south Seattle #starbucks addressing each seated customer directly with her broad smile. “Hey, just so you know, we’re going to be starting our training in a few minutes.”

Five minutes later, the once-full store had emptied of its customers. One by one, they finished their drinks and packed up to leave – a UPS guy, a man wearing a massive backpack and a bicycle helmet, a woman in headphones working on a laptop. Many of them said goodbye to #starbucks partners as they filed past the sign on the door, which matched the one on the drive-through screen: “We’ll see you tomorrow.” 

Even after the store was closed, customers continued to arrive.

“Aww, those were regulars,” Stubblefield said as two men walked up, read the sign on the door and walked away.

There’s no easy way to close a bustling café and drive-through for four hours in the middle of the day. On Tuesday, #starbucks closed more than 8,000 of them nationwide for training and conversations about bias and inclusion.

Tuesday’s closure stems from an April 12 incident at a Philadelphia #starbucks where Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both black men, were waiting for a business associate. One of them asked for the restroom code and was told it was for paying customers only, and they sat down without making a purchase. The store manager called the police, who arrested them and led them out of the store. Nelson and Robinson had been in the store less than 10 minutes when police arrived.

The manager is no longer with #starbucks, and the company has since updated its policy to make the café spaces open to all customers – defined as anyone in the store.

Within days of the incident, leaders Kevin Johnson, the chief executive officer, and Howard Schultz, executive chairman, announced that all of #starbucks more than 8,000 stores in the United States would close the afternoon of May 29 for trainings and conversations about bias and inclusion.

The session, called "The Third Place: Our Commitment Renewed" was created under the guidance of national experts including Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Heather McGhee, president of Demos; former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. It's the first of what will be ongoing sessions.

“I think it’s courageous and empowering,” said Marylee Moore, a regular customer who had wandered by the south Seattle #starbucks for an iced coffee to find the store closed. “It’s pretty brave of them to close all those #starbucks on the same day. It will definitely be noticed. My (iced coffee) temptation will have to be waylaid for today – but for a good cause.”

Inside, the store was bustling again – this time with partners. Those who weren’t already working Tuesday arrived in cars, taxis and by bicycle. They arrived carrying pizzas and salad and cakes. Tim Webb, the store manager, spent his Memorial Day holiday baking three trays of cinnamon rolls for his team.

“Because who doesn’t love a cinnamon roll?” he said, warming them in the store’s ovens on the “morning bun” setting.

Arnetta Allen, a shift supervisor, hurriedly led the business of closing – storing #food, counting money, distributing tips – so the four-hour training could begin. Allen is actually featured as part of the training; she appears in a video discussing the complexities of establishing a welcoming environment in stores.

Further information in the press release to download