Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Coffee for Crips!

I Like My Caffeine

Ok, I need my caffeine. A triple latte seems like an ideal way to start the day, to me. Especially while in transit to a job I might not be thrilled about.

For the past year and a half, I have been commuting by public transit, which involves light rail and transfer to a commuter rail system. At the station where I make that transfer, there used to be a coffee stand, which I loved. Sadly, it is gone, as of a couple of months ago. Now, I must forage for coffee.

I am in downtown Mountain View, CA, and the Starbucks outlet is really too far from the train station for a quick run, even using my 5 mph power Quickie.

The Locals

There are 2 independent coffee places within 4 blocks of the station, and a third is under renovation, so one would think that I should hardly need to pine for Starbucks...

Both of the independents have moderate to severe access problems:

  • no code compliant entrance
  • no lowered counters
  • no accessible stand for lids, sugar, etc.

I'm not sure about whether the restrooms are code compliant, but it would be a significant surprise to me if they are.

It should be mentioned that the employees in both of these stores are very nice, and helpful. Yes, I get my coffee. Yes, they will hand me a lid or even put it on. That is not the point.

Hail, Starbucks!

Back in the '90s, when I lived in San Francisco, Starbucks opened a store in the 24th Street shopping district, much to the dismay of the locals. They decried the advent of another chain store moving into the neighborhood, killing the local businesses.

In reality, that Starbucks moved into a space that had been empty for quite a long time. Both of the other coffee places, within 6 blocks continued to thrive. The reason I would usually go to the Starbucks is that they were completely accessible.

Their entrance was accessible. Their bathroom was accessible. They had a lowered counter where you ordered -- although, unfortunately, most Starbucks have the high pickup counters. The condiment/lids station is accessible and you can reach everything.

The feature that most impressed me was that it was clear that you could get a wheelchair behind the counter, if you wanted to. If you had a store where someone just ran the cash register, or took the drive-thru orders, you could have a person in a wheelchair perform that job.

About four years ago, I stayed a couple of nights in a Best Western in Agate Beach, Oregon. Their in-hotel sundries store, which contained an espresso counter, was run by a man in a wheelchair. He had arranged everything in sort of a U shape around him so that everything was the perfect height and well within reach. He split the shifts with his wife, who rolled in an office chair on her shifts.

The Larger Issue

These inaccessible (to one degree or another) independent coffee shops point up some relevant points for retailers everywhere. To wit:

  • more and more of your customers are going to have mobility impairments (because of the aging of the baby boomers)
  • in contrast to the past, more and more of these disabled customers are going to have money to spend in your stores
  • persons with acquired disabilities are probably going to be even less inclined than I am to frequent stores that are inaccessible, if there are accessible options available
  • having clean, accessible restrooms is going to be a big draw -- trust me on this one
  • Legal, compliance issues aside, it is good business to make your store as accessible as possible

Like many Americans, I spend too much money on coffee drinks and snacks -- think of it as self-medication. I will spend those dollars in the stores I find most pleasant to use. Being able to enter, exit and use the restroom independently are all hallmarks of venues in which I am likely to vote with a dollar.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you for the reality check for those of us like me whom are not totally wise to the fact that you that use wheelchairs (either moterized or not) are just as independant as those people whom are not in that position. deserve the same right to access the same things as people that we people whom walk on two legs do.