The Closing of Starbucks COB

First of all, the disclaimers.One, I am a coffee addict. Specifically, a Starbucks coffee addict. Let's just get that out of the way right now.Two, I know that Starbucks isn't the company of the year and that trueblue radicals eschew it just as much as they fight the WTO.And three, I live in The Bahamas where issues get very complicated and some things are not what they seem.That said, here's what's bothering me. The Starbucks outlet at the College of The Bahamas is closing down. It's a big secret, too, with nobody announcing it beforehand, just a locked door on a new-week morning with the dark drawing in and students heading for finals.And last Monday, when I was on campus with my class, and when the glut of students that meets in the Michael Eldon Building on a Monday evening, when I took my students into Starbucks for a class meeting just before it closed down, there was an incident in the parking lot in which four rather large young men stood around and mingled with the students. They looked somehow out of place, too alert and watching too many different people, to be entirely unsuspicious, and after hanging around the dark edges of the buildings at the perimeter of the crowd, they noticed that they had been noticed (by lecturers as well as by security guards) and they moved towards the edge of the lot, heading towards MacDonald's. As they neared the gate, the incident happened.By "incident", of course, I mean "fight"; they tried to steal a student's cell phone, and the security guard who'd been watching them intervened.The difficulty was that the guard was smaller than they were, and, they tell me say, one of the young men has a black belt in karate. The result was that the attempted mugging turned into a fight in which the four began to beat and kick the guard. The other guards came to his rescue and the police and the ambulance were called (and came), and the four scattered. Two were caught, they tell me say, and two got away.I say all of this to say something else.The College of The Bahamas campus has absolutely nowhere for students to gather. It is an excellent academic institution, and I have long ago resolved in my mind that it is a university, no matter what detractors say. But as a place where people gather and talk and think and create the kind of change that makes societies grow? Not a chance.  There's no place for people to sit and meet and talk. What happened on Monday night is too unfortunately commonplace on the campus because of this very fact. And because Starbucks is pulling out of the campus, it is likely to become more commonplace still.For the past two years, the only such place was provided by an outside entity -- Starbucks, owned by John Bull. In the past two years, John Bull has provided an immeasurable service to the college community, and, by extension, to the city of Nassau, by having had the guts and the foresight to place one of its outlets on the college campus. A brilliant stroke, I thought. A wondrous place. Besides the overpriced caffeine shots and the too-large bits of food, it was a cafe in the place where young minds are beginning to wake up, and the fact that it was a corporate entity, part of a chain, was important, for more than students gathered there. It was a node where all parts of the society could come in safety. You could run into anyone there. Each local Starbucks outlet has its own clientele, its own feel; in this one, though, it seemed that you could run into almost anybody. For the past two years, Starbucks has contributed to the studies of students, by providing a sensible place where people could meet and talk and plan group work. It has been intimately involved in book fairs, by allowing its porch to be used for readings. It has embodied Bahamian art with its mural on the wall. And, while supplying the campus with its special drugs, it has helped festivals get planned, books get written, research get done, and a future Bahamas be made.Apparently, however, none of that is important. What appears to be important is some kind of bottom line.  I hear rumours that it is the least profitable of the chain, and it has long been on the chopping block.Corporate Bahamas, hear me loud and clear: WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REALIZE THAT PROFITS ARE NOT SIMPLY MONETARY? When are you going to understand that sometimes profits are like dividends; they pay off down the line? (You expect your shareholders to get that concept -- what if shareholders treated you the way you treat your customers, suspended their goodwill, and expected major returns straight off?) The profits that are being borne by the Starbucks COB would have been reaped by you, or by John Bull, or by the society at large five, ten years from now when the students you allowed to congregate in your outlet, even though they didn't spend as much money as the corporate individuals or the tourists in your other places did. The service you were providing to the community is worth far more than profit margins or overheads. (Perhaps this is something one could pass on to your landlord as well; perhaps the College itself is to blame for charging too much rent). But when the outlet closes, something far more than coffee will be gone -- and the society as a whole will feel it down the line as well.So this is my answer to those people who don't think it's worth fighting to keep that Starbucks open. I don't care about the coffee or the prices or the reputation of the place. I care about the people and the society and the service that that cafe provides for the community. There are precious few places in this Bahamas that treat Bahamians like fully fleshed human beings; Starbucks is one of them. I go into Starbucks for the smiles, not the coffee (I can buy the coffee and take it home). I go there for the feeling of being treated like I belong, that I am worth something in my own country. Too few other places provide that feeling, and none of them exist where young people congregate. That alone is more important, and more revolutionary, than any coffee, tea, or muffins could ever be.