05/09/06 — Who's afraid of Starbucks?

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Who's afraid of Starbucks?

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 9, 2006 1:55 PM

There's a showdown coming to Wayne County.

And the weapons will be expresso machines, gourmet syrups, half and half -- and confidence.

With national chain Starbucks coming to the Berkeley Mall parking lot sometime this summer, the stalwart coffee vendors who have been providing Wayne County with caffeine for years are not exactly ready to concede territory.

If anything, they are welcoming the challenge. After all, they say, there is always room for one more.

Star Whitmore is the woman who pioneered bringing a free-standing just-coffee-and-nothing-else shop to Goldsboro. She has run the Grounds for Expression Coffee and Ice-Cream Shoppe for nine years.

Her first Grounds for Expression shop outside the base gate had six people waiting in line at 3 a.m. on opening day.

She was picking up some milk at Sam's Club, and her brother called her cell phone.

"You'd better get here with the milk and finish your shopping later," he said.

Military people know coffee, said Ms. Whitmore. She has replaced that shop with two others, one in a kiosk inside Berkeley Mall and the other inside the Base Exchange on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

She's established, and she expects customers to compare Starbucks to her place, not vice versa.

"People always try something new. I do the same thing," she said. "Some will go back and forth. Some will stay with Starbucks, and some will stay with me. A friend once told me, 'Any incoming tide floats all boats.'"

And because Grounds for Expression is independently owned, she said customers can get any flavor combinations they want, unlike those who go to a corporately owned coffee shop.

Another independently owned coffee shop down the street from Starbucks' new location is Java Joe's, owned by Holly Rench. She said the best place to be if you're in the coffee business is down the street from a Starbucks.

"There's room for all of us," she said.

She said she expects business to improve with the coming of Starbucks.

"It will educate people. People who don't drink coffee are going to go to Starbucks because they've heard about it," she said.

She said Starbucks is normally open on Sundays, and Java Joe's is closed on Sundays. She said she figures customers can go to Starbucks on Sunday and then come appreciate Java Joe's on Monday.

"We are cheaper and better," she said from what she has seen at other Starbucks stores. "You'll always get a better product when it's locally owned."

She said she thinks the customers get better service, too, when they go to an independently owned place to get their coffee. Java Joe's has a lot of regular customers. The employees see them coming and have their favorite coffee ready for them by the time they pull up to the window.

Coffee has been a big seller on the West Coast for some time, particularly the kind that comes from a drive-through, a trend that is gaining momentum in the east, Ms. Rench said.

"If you go out west, they're everywhere, and they're just like little drive-through shacks," she said.