Parkside leaders welcome neighborhood's first Starbucks

Lucinda Hudson beams when she gazes at the northwest corner of a West Philadelphia parking lot. In the next two years, a Starbucks will open in this section of the ParkWest Town Center, a busy suburban-style shopping plaza at 52nd and Jefferson streets.

“We didn’t think they would come into an urban setting,” said Hudson, longtime president of the Parkside Association of Philadelphia, a community development corporation.

Until about a decade ago, Parkside was almost exclusively African-American with largely low- to moderate-income homeowners. Hudson said the neighborhood is more diverse now — racially and socioeconomically — and the new Starbucks is proof it’s changing for the better.

She can’t wait to see the company’s green and white logo on the shopping center’s towering marquee, now topped by signs for Lowe’s home improvement and ShopRite.

“People think about this neighborhood now, but they’ll think about it twice when they see a Starbucks sign,” said Hudson.

The ParkWest location will be Starbucks’ newest community store. The company has a dozen around the country, including one in Trenton, New Jersey.

The drive-thru coffee shop will serve lattes and Frappuccinos, but it will also have extra space for community groups to host meetings. The goal is to have the store staffed by young people – 16- to 24-year-olds – from the neighborhood who were previously unemployed, dropped out of school, or both.

With help from the Parkside Association of Philadelphia, Starbucks will hire 20-25 people for part- and full-time positions. Through a partnership with Arizona State University, they’ll be in a position to pursue a college degree online while they work. Starbucks completely reimburses program participants for tuition.

For Hudson, the best part will be the jobs that come with it. Unemployment is a problem in Parkside, especially for young people.

“A young person getting a job, making $150 a week, is a good thing because it keeps them busy and keeps them from getting into mischief,” said Hudson.

Starbucks declined to comment.

Discussions about opening a community store in Philadelphia began in 2017 — about a year before an avalanche of headlines told the world two black men were arrested inside a Starbucks in Center City while waiting for the start of a business meeting.

Viral video of that incident helped accelerate the process of approving the Parkside store, said Hudson.

Last April, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both in their early 20s, headed to a Starbucks at 18th and Spruce streets. Nelson asked to use the bathroom. The store manager told him the bathroom was for customers only and asked if they wanted to buy water or start a drink order. When they declined, the manager asked the pair to leave. When they refused, she called police, who put them in a holding cell on trespassing charges.

Robinson and Nelson were eventually released. Starbucks apologized, settled with the men for an undisclosed amount of money, and changed its bathroom policy. Restrooms are now available to everyone, not just customers.

In late May, the company closed 8,000 company-owned stores so employees could participate in anti-bias training sessions.

About the author

Aaron Moselle, WHYY reporter

Aaron Moselle is a general assignment reporter for WHYY. While you can find him at the courthouse or a school funding rally, he also spends a good chunk of his time writing about issues in Northwest Philadelphia, where he was born and raised.

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