Starbucks said this week that it is permanently closing 16 locations in various markets over safety concerns and is instituting new strategies to ensure the well-being of employees inside its cafes.
The coffee giant said it would close locations in the Seattle area, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Portland, Ore. The locations are set to shut down July 31 and workers will be transferred to other cafes.
“You’re also seeing first-hand the challenges facing our communities—personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use and more,” two Starbucks senior vice presidents of operations, Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, wrote in a letter to employees on Monday. “With stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores, too.
“We read every incident report you file—it’s a lot.”
They also suggested that other stores could close in the future, too, as safety becomes a concern. Their letter mentioned that stores could modify operations, close restrooms, or close the store permanently “where safety in the third place is no longer possible.”
The move is an extraordinary one, given Starbucks’ size and reach. While safety concerns often lead operators to close restaurants, it’s rare to see a major chain close this many in this many markets at one time.
It comes after Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ interim CEO, prominently mentioned safety inside its restaurants as part of a broad set of guidelines that will dictate the chain’s future. “We can expect to protect each other, respect and include each other, and work together to create the kind of safe and welcoming environment we need at work,” he wrote.
Safety was one of the top issues mentioned as Schultz held meetings with the company’s workers across the country following his return to the chain in April.
In their letter, Stroud and Nelson mentioned several strategies, some of which are new, designed to improve safety. That includes potentially adjusting store formats, hours of operation, staffing or testing other options like alarm systems or connecting with outreach workers on specific solutions.
The company plans to include more safety training for workers, including “active shooter” training and mental health first aid.
The company will add policies and procedures on addressing disruptive behaviors and when to call 911. Stroud and Nelson also said the company would hold workers and leaders accountable when they “fail to maintain a safe and welcoming third place.” They also said that using technology to help staff the stores could help create more stability.
They also noted the company’s mental health benefits, including free counselors to stores following critical incidents, as well as its other benefits for college tuition, fertility treatments, adoption, access to abortion and gender-affirming procedures.
“Simply put, we cannot serve as partners if we don’t first feel safe at work,” Stroud and Nelson wrote.
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