Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Starbucks at Place du Tertre? What would Hemingway think?

Will the artists at Place du Tertre soon be sipping coffee out of cups emblazoned with the Starbuck's logo?

If someone asked you to close your eyes and imagine one spot in Paris that symbolizes everything that the city means to you, would you conjure up images of a cozy café in the Marais, an old bookstore in the Latin Quarter or a Starbucks at Place du Tertre in Montmartre?

After noticing a heated debate on Twitter regarding the American coffee company's impending invasion of the picturesque square, I traveled to Montmartre yesterday afternoon to ask some of the local artists about their new neighbor. Their pragmatic responses surprised me. C'est la vie - business is business. It seems that the former owner, whom the artists have known for 25 years, had tried to sell the property to an individual proprietor but no one could afford the exorbitant fond de commerce. Then along came Paul, the French bakery. Paul was sent packing, however, when some of the other merchants voiced concerns that the large chain would put them out of business. Starbucks, it seems, was the best choice. After mentioning the souks that have taken over several of the streets in the area,  the artists said that they were relieved that their friend had sold his restaurant to an international company with a good reputation. They were sure that Starbucks would maintain the property. They were pleased for their friend. He has finally sold his restaurant and can retire.

Resigning myself to the realities of modern day Paris, I trudged down the steps towards the metro. When I heard a group of Americans behind me, I couldn't resist asking if they had heard the news. Shaking their heads in dismay, they said that a Starbucks will completely ruin the essence of Place du Tertre. As for me, I'm still trying to imagine Hemingway ordering a Frappuccino grande and a muffin before settling down with his laptop to take advantage of Starbuck's free wifi.

Au Pichet du Tertre will soon be Au Starbucks du Tertre. At least they won't have to change the color scheme!
The official declaration of work for the Starbucks at the Place du Tertre.

33 comments:

  1. Well, I have recently decided to boycott Starbucks because they have paid ZERO taxes in the UK. There is an ongoing public enquiry and it made me so angry.

    I like Place du Tetre although a lot of tourists think it is tacky and touristy, so I guess Starbucks will not really make a lot of difference to them, but I think Paul would have been better. At least it is French....and as far as I know pays tax!

    Not sure what Hemingway would have thought.

    Love Denise

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    1. Shame on Starbucks. I didn't know that they haven't been paying their taxes in the UK! It makes me wonder how they can continue to operate there.

      Like you, I also like Place du Tertre and am somehow able to turn a blind eye to all the touristy stuff. Maybe it's because it's one of the first places that I visited in Paris when I was 18. Back then, it seemed as if it was the very embodiment of Paris for me, although it probably seemed touristy to Parisians.

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  2. I really hope the "global invasion" of starbucks will come soon to an end - or at least they'll make their coffee better.. I hardly ever have a coffee at starbucks, but well I must say that their free wifi is quite good when I'm abroad for checking quickly my email.
    I once was for a semster in Montpellier in the south of France, there wasn't any starbucks and nobody was missing anything! Also Montpellier doesn't have (or didn't have at that time, I can't say it for today) any H&M - very refreshing!

    xxx Anita

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    1. I'm not a fan of Starbuck's coffee either. It's a bit bitter or acidic for my taste.

      When I lived in a small town in Switzerland that didn't have a Starbucks, I always treated myself to a coffee when I would visit Bern because it was such a novelty. I wish that was still the case! Now the small town in Switzerland has its own Starbucks, as does the neighboring town.

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  3. Starbucks,il va falloir qu,ils respectent les lois Française et qu,ils payent les impots qu,ils doivent a la France .Il s,installe en France pourquoi pas mais pour commencer on respecte le pays dans lequel ont s,installe .SI pour eux ils y a trop d,impots en France qu,ils partent.

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    1. It seems like Starbucks has a bad reputation of not paying taxes in France or the UK. I agree that they should respect the laws of the country where they operate.

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  4. Hem would say nothing, he would have a drink (or two, or ...) When the "global invasion", as Anita wrote, goes on, I'll do the same. xS

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    1. I think that you're right about Hemingway. He seemed to be such an observer of human nature that he would probably sip his drink and watch as others stood in the long line at Starbucks waiting to order their lattes.

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  5. Surprisingly, I'm not so upset by this matter. The area couldn't be more touristy, and un-Parisian to me. A Starbucks will be right at home. I remember popping into the one in St Germain, I couldn't believe how many people were waiting in line for their coffee and how many people had commandeered a table for their laptops. For some, the place feels like home; it doesn't for me. And if they make good neighbors, then even better.

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    1. Wow, I'm surprised too that you're letting this one slide (JTB, you truly are a wonder. ; )). But yeah, you're right it was bound to happen in this high traffic spot...

      In my old neighborhood in the Marais, we had THREE each within 5min walking distance from each other. That was a little excessive.

      MK - I'm LOVING the image of Hemingway with a laptop slurping down a frap, of all drinks! Haha!

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    2. @Mlle Ella, That's what keeps things interesting with Joseph. Just as soon as I'm sure that he'll respond one way to something, he has a different reaction.

      As for the image of Hemingway, I've been having a lot of fun with that myself. On the metro ride home from Montmartre, I amused myself by trying to recall cafe scenes in his books and transplant them to Starbucks. It would be an interesting writing assignment. (Yeah, I'm a nerd!)

      I don't know if it's the times that I'm there, but the Starbucks in the Marais always seem to be full whenever I walk past. I had no idea that there are 3 (!!!) of them.

      @Joseph, Maybe it's because Montmartre is more my symbolic image of Paris than St Germain, but I was upset because I would have liked for the Place du Tertre to remain as it was when I first saw it many years ago. Of course, it has already changed considerably since 1981 but as yet there hasn't been an int'l chain there. My mind changed, however, after I talked with the French artists. The world goes on...even in Paris.

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  6. Great photos and good on ya for going up to the Place. It's sooooo touristy already, so not sure a Starbucks will make a difference -- can see the artists liking its potential to draw even more tourists (eek).

    As for me, I still mourn the invasion of global brands everywhere, sigh (except for that time in China, when my work colleagues and I gratefully sank into chairs in a -- STARBUCKS!!! Yikes!). As Denise above noted, here in the UK everyone's pretty disgusted about their having paid zero taxes (for whatever 'valid' or not so valid reason).

    Never an easy answer, I guess! Cheers.

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    1. Don't feel bad about gratefully sinking into a chair in Starbucks. I think that we've all done it at one time or another. At least you probably had a good idea of what you were ordering. That's probably the main draw when people are far from home and don't speak the language.

      I hadn't thought that the artists might equate Starbucks with extra business for them but that's also what one of the Americans said. It makes sense because a Starbucks may encourage people to spend more time in Montmartre.

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  7. Do we really need another Starbucks? Is one on every corner really necessary? Having said that, I think Hemingway would be OK with it. In fact, he'd probably welcome a new Starbucks where he could get wi-fi in order to write his blog ("A Moveable Feast" on e-blogger) on his iPad.

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    1. Ha! I like the image of Hemingway writing on his iPad. Another thing that I've been wondering is where an aspiring author (a modern day Hemingway) would go in Paris. It's probably not Montmartre. Would it be near the Canal Saint-Martin? I don't know.

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    2. Well the area around Canal Saint-Martin is being , how would you say, having money spent on it .. and it is now up and coming, was there a little while ago, with my friends who live there.

      Why don't people speak more French when they go away, that is manners , and surely they can ask for a coffee. Just an excuse , sorry but I feel so annoyed.

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  8. Speaking strictly as a tourist...I detest the idea...as well as the generic and bland coffee produced by this establishment! Having made a visit to one in Beijing, (free Wifi), I vowed never to repeat the mistake.
    The responses of the locals however, are very interesting. We do live in tough economic times and it is difficult not to appreciate the points of view from those who are finding it tough.
    Note to self: "Always support local businesses and producers where ever possible." Thanks for bringing this post to us Mary Kay.

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    1. Free wifi and not coffee seems to be the main attraction of Starbucks! Maybe that's what locally owned establishments need to do to attract more customers.

      Your note to yourself is one that I tell myself on a frequent basis. Unfortunately, all too often we never seem to appreciate the local businesses until they're gone. Then we realize how important they are. Bookstores are a prime example.

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  9. Do you know, I've never been in a Starbucks and have only ever seen one in my life - one in Paris!

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    1. I can't say that you've missed anything...except perhaps the free wifi!

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  10. It really is a pity that in a city like Paris, Starbucks should be such a popular venue not only among the tourists, but also the French, particularly the young people. I agree with the others who say that Montmartre is really a tourist area anyway so what does it matter. I've never been to Starbucks myself. I much prefer a local "zinc". You did a good job interviewing people, Mary Kay.

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    1. The local cafes have much more character, don't they? I've also wondered why Starbucks is so popular with the young French people. I guess that it's a case of trying something new.

      Fortunately for me, it was a slow day at the Place du Tertre so the artists seemed happy to talk about Starbucks. I did, however, wonder if they were expressing pro-Starbuck opinions because they were talking with an American, but I don't think that was the case.

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  11. Another Starbucks would be better than another McDonald's, no? Haven't been to Place du Tertre in years, so I don't have any strong feelings about it. I do think a new Paul bakery would've been a good option.

    Patricia H

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    1. Most definitely! I think that everyone would have been up in arms if a McDonald's tried to buy the restaurant.

      I'll be curious to see what changes Starbucks makes to the building.

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    2. "I'll be curious to see what changes Starbucks makes to the building."

      Not pleased with this news, but I hope they at least keep the building the same. It's charming.

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    3. @nycgirl Once Starbucks opens, I'll go take some pics so that you know what they've done with the place.

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  12. OMG! That's outrageous! As if the Place du Tertre weren't touristy enough!!!

    The old village of Montmartre is losing all its essence!

    What's next? A Mickey D's?!!!

    I have nothing against Starbucks and international chains per se, but not there, come on! Couldn't Alain Ducasse or some other grand chef buy the place and turn it into some temple of good taste that would attract locals and tourists alike?!

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    1. Noooo...., not a Micky D's! That would be outrageous! And not a Chipotle or a KFC either!

      I like your idea of one of the grand chefs buying the restaurant but perhaps it's too far off the beaten track for most people. Unlike when I first went there many, many years ago, everyone seems to leave the Place du Tertre shortly after the sun goes down. It's a shame because it's a place that could have some great local atmosphere. Instead, most people seem to think of it as a big tourist trap.

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  13. I say that let the French start their own chain of coffee shops, which they are perfectly capable of doing so as they do have excellent coffee, and start dotting the map in the US and compete with Starbucks, et al. I, for one, would be happy to see one of them set up in my city and would probably patronize them. No need to complain. Our doors in the US are open and you will be most welcomed.

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  14. Why do Starbucks feel the need to invade such a lovely area .. they have other places to go .. I for one would not visit one in England, (avoiding taxes, in the news few weeks ago) I try and support all our lovely little cafes in Oxford England, I know you have some here too.

    Stay away from Montmartre Place du Tertre... Yes I would be all for a Pauls there .. :-)

    Sorry , big chains are ripping the heart out of Oxford, please don't let it happen to one of my favourite areas of Paris (my favourite city too).

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  15. Starbucks has 50 locations in Paris. There are over 40,000 cafe's in Paris. Still, I think 50 is enough. I dropped in one near the Louvre in 2011 - because it WASN'T crowded and I needed to use the John. I go to Starbucks nearly every day in the U.S., but won't miss in when I visit Paris in June. BTW, though I love the cafe' scene in Paris, I don't think the coffee is that great. My favorite coffee in Europe was in Italy. Just my opinion.

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  16. It's easy - avoid the place du tertre. It's as authentically Parisien as the Romanian street kid who picked your pocket while you were looking at some "art"....

    Go elsewhere in Paris, go elsewhere on the Butte de Montmartre. But really - place du Tertre is only for mugs.

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