One Interstate highway interchange here in Greater Lansing clearly depicts the ongoing coffee ground wars taking place across the American landscape. Just off Exit 110 on I-96 are no less than five major coffee shop chains, plus another well-known coffee brand being served at a gas/convenience store. Situated at this one exit are:
- Biggby Coffee (Lansing’s hometown brand)
- Starbucks Coffee with a drive-thru
- McDonald’s McCafe with a drive-thru
- Dunkin Donuts Coffee & More
- Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bake Shop with a drive-thru
- Folger’s Coffee Station at the Marathon Gas/Convenience store
Whether all six of these coffee businesses will survive the intense ground war for the long run is unknown. To date, all seem to be weathering the battle. The most recent entry is the Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bake Shop, which opened over the winter. In many ways this turf war reminds me of the burger wars of the 1970s between McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Jack in the Box, Steak n’ Shake, White Castle, and numerous local and regional chains. In planning school, the term to describe this nodal effect of locating near other was “economies of agglomeration.” Basically, it means there is greater strength and draw in clustering.
The fighting is fierce as battle flags, sweeping banners, and prolific window signs are raised in defiance toward the competition. Deals to sway fickle consumer taste buds are proffered in attempts to garner strategic advantage. Just today when I used a nearby car wash, I was handed a coupon for a 99 cent cup of any style of coffee at Tim Horton’s and when I stopped to buy some gas, the Sunoco station offered a discount of 10 cents per gallon if I bought a large or extra-large coffee from Dunkin Donuts and More. I assumed it was off per gallon of gas and not per gallon of coffee, but who knows anymore.
Of these six armies, I prefer supporting the hometown brand Biggby or in certain occasions Starbucks because they both carry scones. Much to my dismay and surprise, the area Tim Horton’s do not carry scones. What is this world coming to when the Canadian coffee shop chain does not carry scones in their American stores? Jeez o’ Pete!
Unfortunately, the primary victim of this grinding land battle between coffee giants is the ability of independent coffee shops to compete on the same turf. We have a number of terrific coffee shops around Greater Lansing, but none located at or near this busy interchange. So, with the exception of the lone Biggby Coffee outpost amidst this battlefield, locals and visitors alike must seek refuge elsewhere in Greater Lansing to taste and experience the plethora of great choices we have percolating here. It’s kinda sad when you think about it, because Exit 110 now resembles Anywhereville, USA, which defeats the whole purpose of placemaking.
Pretty soon the gas will cost so much you won’t be able to afford the coffee.
> “Exit 110 now resembles Anywhereville, USA”
I’ll go out on a (sarcastic) limb and state that Exit X off Highway X pretty much resembles Anywhereville. 🙂
With rare exceptions you are probably correct.
While I am not at all familiar with Lansing, Michigan or its local coffee shops, I question your statement that the local establishments are being hurt by the battle on the interstate. Many people credit Starbucks with helping to create the coffee shop culture in America, spawning the plethora of unique, local, character-filled places throughout the country. To my knowledge, there is little evidence that large coffee chains steal business from locally owned coffee businesses.
Local coffee shops tend to offer a different sort of product than say Dunkin’ Donuts. The cozy atmosphere, lumpy couches, random assortment of cups, art by local artists, hipster barristas not wearing corporate attire – all give the customer something he or she cannot find at a large, multi-national chain. I can’t really see local coffee shops being interested in catering to the drive-through crowd. They offer a different product and experience all together.
You make some valid points. Thank you.