Howard Schultz should have listened to me.
A decade ago, I wrote a book in which I observed that one of New York City’s most infamous and intractable municipal problems — its lack of public restrooms — had been in part solved by the private sector, and by one business in particular: Starbucks. That was the case in my neighborhood, at least: On any given afternoon, the Starbucks at Park Row and Beekman would have a restroom line ten or twenty long, mostly European tourists carrying Century 21 shopping bags — it must have been in a guidebook somewhere.
It was a classic case of the private sector creating a public good while bringing in new customers. But the public sector has to do its part, too, when it comes to basic services such as public safety. Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz has been a lifelong champion of the kind of sentimental urban progressivism that has helped to turn the public spaces of cities such as Portland and Philadelphia — and, unhappily, New York — into part-time homeless shelters and makeshift psychiatric wards.
And now his business is paying the price for that.
Only a few years after opening all of its bathrooms to the general public as a grand social-justice gesture, the coffee chain is closing stores around the country — mostly in big, progressive, Democrat-run cities — because the locations have become too dangerous for customers and staff. Homeless people camp in the bathrooms or make mad scenes in the cafes. So many junkies are using Starbucks restrooms to shoot up that the company has been obliged to install needle-disposal boxes in some of its stores — Welcome to Portland! — and the employees who had to clean up those messes understandably complained about possible exposure to HIV and hepatitis.
Here are two things that don’t go together very well: 1.) Selling caffeinated adult milkshakes for six bucks a cup and 2.) hepatitis.
Schultz, who describes himself as a “lifelong Democrat” and who is big on the issues you’d expect the CEO of Starbucks to attend to — gay marriage, climate change, etc. — has toyed around with running for president a couple of times, and promised a politics based on a “deep level of compassion and empathy for the American people.”
But what Americans need from their government isn’t compassion and empathy. Americans need safe streets, clean and orderly public places, effective law enforcement, and security in their persons and property. That isn’t the sort of thing that you get from Kshama Sawant and the Socialist Alternative crackpots in Seattle’s city government — it’s the kind of thing you get from hardheaded practical city leaders of the kind Rudy Giuliani used to be before he decided to become Donald Trump’s drunk monkey-butler.
They’re closing five Starbucks stores in Seattle, the chain’s hometown — and, so far, they aren’t closing any in Provo, Utah. There’s a reason for that.
There are whispers that this is a covert campaign against union organizers in Starbucks stores, but I think Schultz is starting to understand in a practical way what Democratic governance means for a big city: He complains that the municipal governments in question have “abdicated their responsibility” when it comes to law enforcement and mental health. Yes, they have.
But so has Howard Schultz, who was bullied into making a groveling apology after Starbucks employees in Philadelphia declined to let two men, who had not bought anything, use the café’s restroom. The men were black and were arrested when they refused to leave. Starbucks apologized, changed its bathroom policy, fired the employee who called the police, and paid the two men an undisclosed sum of money. Which is to say, Starbucks buckled under precisely the kind of nonsensical woke cultural politics that is ruining the cities where Starbucks now finds itself forced to close stores.
Portland and Seattle won’t enforce order in their cities — and Starbucks won’t enforce the rules in its own stores, because doing so puts the company on the wrong side of the sophomoric social-justice sensibilities that Howard Schultz unfortunately shares.
Woke capital plants the seeds of its own destruction — and cowardice is its own punishment.
Kevin D. Williamson is the author of “Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.”