Shared from Seattle Times
starbucks community store
Barista trainer Belith Ariza opens the doors to the community meeting space at a Starbucks Community Store, in Phoenix.  |  Photo Credit: AP Photo / Ross D. Franklin

DETROIT (AP) — Starbucks has a point to prove: There’s more to the company than selling $4 lattes to rich people.

The Seattle-based coffee giant that has cultivated a reputation for being socially responsible said Thursday it is expanding its effort to put more coffee shops — and create more jobs — in poor neighborhoods.

Starbucks plans to open or remodel 85 stores by 2025 in rural and urban communities across the U.S. Each store will hire local staff, including construction crews and artists, and will have community event spaces. The company will also work with local United Way chapters to develop programs at each shop, such as youth job training classes and mentoring.

The effort will bring to 100 the number of “community stores” Starbucks has opened since it announced the program in 2015.

“All of these programs are with the intent of being purposeful and profitable,” said John Kelly, Starbucks executive vice president of public affairs and social impact.

Starbucks opened its first community store in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2016, two years after the riots that broke out over the shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer. It has added 13 more locations since then, including stores in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans and Jonesboro, Georgia. Another one will open this spring in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Starbucks estimates the shops have created more than 300 jobs.

The project could help the company overcome lingering mistrust in some communities after the furor that erupted in 2018 when two black men waiting to meet someone in a Philadelphia Starbucks were arrested for not ordering anything. Starbucks mandated racial bias training at its 8,000 company-owned stores in response to that incident.

Kelly said the stores reflect Starbucks’ core belief in responsible capitalism. The coffee shops are profitable, he said, and have the same menu as regular Starbucks stores.

Prices vary, but not by much. A grande coconut milk latte in Ferguson costs $4.95, according to Starbucks’ app. Six miles away, a Starbucks in University City charges $5.25 for the same drink. In Jonesboro, a grande coffee is $2.25. It’s $2.45 at a Starbucks in downtown Atlanta.

“This is not charity. These are successful stores,” Kelly said, acknowledging neighbors’ skepticism. “We’re defying a lot of the stereotypes and we’re proud to do so.”

The Starbucks in Jonesboro lies on a busy road with strip malls and numerous chain restaurants. Business was brisk on Thursday afternoon, with a dozen or so customers inside and a steady stream of cars at the drive-thru.

A man who was walking by the store and gave his name as Leroy Z said he is glad Starbucks is giving locals another choice for coffee beyond the fast-food restaurants in town. But he was skeptical about how much Starbucks cares about the community and how much the store will bolster the local economy.

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