Here’s one indicator of how well Boston is recovering from the pandemic: The number of Starbucks cafes that are open.
And it turns out that as pedestrian traffic on weekdays slowly picks up across the city, several of the Seattle coffee chain’s stores won’t reopen. It’s permanently closing at least four Boston locations and several others remain temporarily shuttered, even though all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses have been lifted for months.
Starbucks put several of its Boston shops in hibernation-mode during the pandemic, but this year it began filing permits with the city to permanently close some of them. It’s a a sign that the company isn’t betting on a resurgence of office workers in the area, or at least not one that will require all of the cafes it operated before the pandemic.
Still it’s not as though people looking for a latte to help them make it through an in-person meeting won’t be able to get their fix ― Starbucks has about 45 location within the city limits, according to its website.
The closures are concentrated in downtown Boston’s business district near large employers, many of which have not fully reopened their offices or won’t require employees to trek downtown five days a week anymore. Starbucks plans to close a cafe on the edge of the Congress Street bridge, which connects the Seaport District to downtown, as well as the cafes on 45 Broad St. and 27 School St. Another Starbucks store inside One Federal Street, a 38-story office tower in the Financial District, will also permanently close.
Other locations around the city have remained temporarily closed. A spokesperson said the cafe across the street from State Street Corp. would reopen next week, and others are expected to open in October.
In line with shifting consumer habits, the company will open the area’s first “Starbucks Pickup” store this fall in Cambridge. It has been developing the format for about two years, but accelerated the process during the pandemic. Located at 11 First St., around the corner from HubSpot’s headquarters, the store will be designed for pickup orders through the Starbucks mobile app, or for delivery via Uber Eats. The format debuted in New York in 2019.
The Starbucks spokesperson could not confirm when or whether these types of stores would open in Boston.
“Our vision is that each large city in the US will ultimately have a mix of traditional Starbucks cafes and Starbucks Pickup locations,” the company wrote in a public filing last year. “Starbucks Pickup stores will...better serve ‘on-the-go’ customers while reducing crowding in our cafes.”
In June of last year, Starbucks said it was paring back its city footprint to “better cater to changing customer tastes and preferences.” In its latest annual report, Starbucks increased the expected amount of cafe closures in the US and Canada from 600 to 800.
The company reports “strong sales recovery” in rural and suburban areas, according to John Culver, its chief operating officer. During an earnings call in late July, Culver said that customers tend to order more food and beverages in the drive-throughs in those areas than they would in city locations. (Starbucks recently announced that it would open its first store in Malden.)
The trends Starbucks is responding to are prevalent in Downtown Crossing and Financial District, where the business comeback has been slower than in other areas of Massachusetts. Tatte Bakery & Cafe, for example, has reopened all of its cafes except one on Washington Street near the Old State House building.
“COVID does not discriminate against any restaurant, small, locally owned, or large national chain,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “Greater Boston continues to be far more affected than the suburbs due to the concentration of restaurants and seats, combined with the continuing lag on employees returning to the workplace.”
The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District found that of the 155 restaurants in the area before the pandemic, 108 reopened by the end of July. And so far this year, foot traffic in the district is down 70 percent from the level seen in 2019.
A McKinsey report commissioned by the Baker administration suggests that the Boston-Cambridge economy will be most impacted by future-of-work trends, citing an expected “shifting center of gravity away from the urban core.” Starbucks, it appears, also believes that to be true.