Starbucks' Closing Of Stores Is 'Just The Beginning,' Says CEO

On July 12, it was reported that Starbucks plans to permanently close 16 stores. The reason? Reported safety concerns in markets including Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, and Washington, D.C., according to The Wall Street Journal

Though the pandemic has caused plenty of food and beverage businesses to close due to financial strain, that doesn't appear to be the case with these stores closing up shop. Rather, Starbucks' senior vice presidents of U.S. operations hinted in a letter to employees that they are a direct result of "challenges" the stores have faced in terms of the "growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and more." 

The company says it became aware of safety issues in its stores after reading incident reports from employees, referred to as partners, who recalled members of the public using drugs in the coffee chain's bathrooms, as well as other disturbances. Starbucks told the Los Angeles Times that its six soon-to-close LA-area stores "have experienced a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate," and it plans "to open new locations with safer conditions." Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz recently spoke to employees on the topic and suggested that more closures are on the way.

Starbucks CEO says more store closures are imminent in leaked footage

A recent video of Schultz talking to employees, leaked by radio host Ari Hoffman on Twitter and confirmed as "authentic" by Insider, suggests those 16 Starbucks stores are not the only ones that will close their doors. "We're listening to our people and closing stores, and this is just the beginning. There are going to be many more," Schultz said in the footage. 

Though Starbucks claims "employees' personal safety" is the main issue behind the closures, some partners are concerned that they're actually retaliation for unionization efforts, seeing as three of the stores were either unionized or planning to hold a vote soon. Twitter account Starbucks Worker Solidarity interviewed an employee of one of the soon-to-close locations, who called the move "an act of union busting" and said their store environment was "quiet" and not unsafe. Starbucks has denied any correlation.

The company's website outlines a message to its partners, outlining a list of ways it will combat safety issues within stores. The list includes safety training for all stores and also revealed that locations can be equipped with new alarm systems and bathroom occupancy sensors. Considering Schultz's remarks, though, the safety measures will not curtail more closures on the horizon.