How about a taste of palace intrigue with your iced coffee?
A proposal for a Starbucks shop on South Boston’s East Broadway, back for another go-around, drew packs of supporters and opponents to a City Hall hearing room on Wednesday. These licensing board votes are typically formalities. But in this case, we’re also talking about a fight over the character of a fast-changing neighborhood.
Many of the attendees filed out after the hearing ended, fully expecting the city’s licensing board would make a decision the next day, as is often the case with these requests.
But on Thursday the licensing board instead deferred its vote to a later date, leaving the controversy to continue to simmer.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is opposed, just as he was the first time around, when Starbucks unsuccessfully sought what’s known as a common victualler license from the board in May. The mayor’s office emphasized concerns about deliveries and traffic in an already congested area — the proposal is for 749 East Broadway, at the road’s busy intersection with L Street.
Since the board voted against the plan in May, Starbucks representatives reached out to the neighborhood to build support. And the neighborhood’s city councilors, Bill Linehan and Michael Flaherty, sent staff members to speak in favor of the plan at Wednesday’s meeting.
For many on both sides, nothing short of the future of the Southie thoroughfare is at stake.
To supporters, the arrival of a Starbucks could bring foot traffic and provide an important amenity to the young professionals who are moving into the neighborhood in droves.
“We need this more than ever,” said Billy Higgins, owner of an insurance agency on East Broadway. “It’s unfortunate that it’s pitting neighbors and friends against each other.”
But to the critics, the Seattle-based corporate behemoth could drive up rents and threaten the mom-and-pop businesses that contribute to East Broadway’s flavor. “It’s just going to drive out business,” said Marissa Walsh, co-owner of the Cranberry Cafe on East Broadway.
Christine Pulgini, the board’s chairwoman and a Walsh appointee, issued a statement through the mayor’s office about why the board didn’t vote on Thursday.
“Leading up to the hearing and continuing to this morning, the board has received a voluminous amount of e-mails, both in support and opposition of Starbucks,” Pulgini said. “I felt it is important to review them all before we vote. I moved that we defer [the] matter. The other board members agreed.”
The delay frustrated Kenny Jervis, a South Boston resident who attended the meeting and supports the Starbucks plan. He works at a South End restaurant and said he has never seen such pushback for one of these licenses.
“This is old South Boston’s worst nightmare, a yuppie drinking a latte on the corner of L and Broadway,” Jervis said. “This has turned this simple procedure into a metaphorical story.”
But Chris Castagna, who opposes the Starbucks and manages a nearby market and gas station that hosts a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, saw the delay as a hopeful sign.
He argues that a new takeout license is needed because the existing one for the site anticipates an Italian restaurant, not a coffee shop.
“The more time they’re reviewing it, the more things they’re going to find out that are not favorable to Starbucks,” Castagna said.