Why Your Brooklyn Starbucks Closed Early Today

Nearly 175,000 U.S. employees underwent a four-hour training program to prevent racial bias

This Starbucks at the corner of Smith and Wyckoff streets in Brooklyn had signs posted yesterday advising customers of today's early closing (Photos by Steve Koepp)

If you were looking for your afternoon pick-me-up today, you had to get to Starbucks before 2:30, or find a Brooklyn indie coffee shop as an alternative. Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores in the U.S. for a program of anti-bias training for nearly 175,000 employees, following the arrests last month of two African-American men in Philadelphia who had come to a Starbucks for a business meeting.

Starbucks has 34 stores in Brooklyn, according to a 2017 report on chain stores by the Center for an Urban Future. (Dunkin’ Donuts, by contrast, has 139.) Employees at one Brooklyn shop confirmed the 2:30 p.m. closing time, while a sign in the window of another elaborated: “At Starbucks, we are proud to be a third place–a place between home and work where everyone is welcome. A place where everyone feels that they belong. On May 29, our store will close at 2:30 pm so our team can reconnect with our mission and share ideas about how to make Starbucks even more welcoming.”

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A sign posted Monday at a Starbucks on Smith Street in Brooklyn

Starbucks has always sought to portray its stores as neighborhood-friendly spaces, but its rules about bathroom use and hanging out by non-customers has been up to the discretion of local managers. In the Philadelphia episode, a manager called police when one or both of the men asked to use the bathroom but hadn’t purchased anything.

The episode, which was caught on video, stirred protests and widespread rebuke for the company. Starbucks executives met with the two men and apologized for the incident. Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said that the store’s manager, who is no longer with the company, probably acted on her own “unconscious bias.”

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In a page from its website, Starbucks declares, “From our earliest days, diversity and inclusion have been at the heart of how we do business” (Starbucks photo)

The company then announced a new policy, clearly stating its “third place” philosophy: “Any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase,” as long as they avoid “disruptive behavior.”

Among other steps, the company reached out to activists and anti-bias experts to develop a curriculum for today’s program. “Tuesday’s four-hour session will give workers a primer on the history of civil rights from the 1960s to present day,” the Associated Press reported. “Workers will also view a short documentary film.”

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Starbucks is not alone in coming under protest for alleged racial profiling of people in their stores. Earlier this month, more than 50 people demonstrated in front of the Williamsburg vintage boutique Amarcord after a black attorney and her 19-year-old daughter were accused of shoplifting, chased down the street, and handcuffed by police, who found no stolen property. The store’s owners posted an apology and said the episode was the result of “a misunderstanding.”

Steve Koepp is the editor of The Bridge. Previously, he was editorial director of Time Inc. Books, executive editor of Fortune and deputy managing editor of Time.