A community meeting tonight on a Starbucks proposed for L Street and Broadway repeatedly veered towards Parks and Rec style chaos as residents battled each other on issues that often had little to directly do with the coffeehouse - such as which local restaurants drove other local restaurants out of business.
In the middle of one such exchange, the head of a neighborhood association sneered at the owner of a neighborhood business: "What town you live in, by the way?" The owner retorted he lives off N Street.
A mayoral aide repeatedly tried to limit discussion to issues related specifically to the Starbucks, which would be the first east of Perkins Square.
Even the number of Starbucks in South Boston proved an issue - a Starbucks manager and residents could not agree if there was one or three or five; depends whether or not you count the "independent" Starbucks purveyors in Seaport hotels or not.
Meanwhile, Starbucks, at a meeting residents were repeatedly told was only about "operational" questions, could not answer many basic questions about operations, such as what sort of trucks it would use to supply the store or where they would park while unloading.
On Wednesday, the chain goes before the Boston Licensing Board to request a food-serving license for its 39-seat proposal; the hearing starts at 10 a.m. in the board's eighth-floor hearing room in City Hall. Three years ago, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a restaurant with takeout in the new building on the site - which Starbucks says will cover its operation. Earlier this year, the licensing board deferred any action on request for a liquor license for that restaurant.
At tonight's meeting, attended by roughly 80 residents at the Tynan School, opponents raised traffic and parking issues and said the Starbucks would mean far more double parking than the Italian restaurant originally planned for the space, an idea that fell apart when the licensing board turned down its request for a liquor license earlier this year. A Starbucks consultant basically said the traffic and parking are what they are and that it's up to the city to do something about it, not Starbucks.
But everybody has to answer questions about stuff like that in South Boston - such as the co-owner of the Boston Bagel Co., who asked about those issues and about whether Starbucks would steal workers away from surrounding eateries. Another resident reminded him those were the same questions he had to answer when he sought neighborhood approval for his bakery.
Opponents also went after Starbucks for being a big chain, especially one coming into their mom-and-pop part of South Boston, not like that chain-friendly area up by Broadway station. One resident compared the pre-packaged pastries the Starbucks will sell with the handcrafted goods sold at other nearby outlets. The Starbucks would be a couple doors up from an existing Dunkin' Donuts.
One resident asked if Starbucks could shrink the size of its ice cubes in its iced drinks - a Chicago woman recently sued the chain over the amount of ice in her cold drinks - and asked if it was true that Starbucks was being unpatriotic and refusing to send its coffee to service members overseas, which she warned would not go over well in a place like Southie.
Starbucks Regional Director Damian Waugh said he didn't know anything about that, but doubted it and said Starbucks workers all get free bags of coffee, which they could certainly donate to the troops. Ed. note: Waugh should check Snopes.
After Waugh explained how a core commitment of Starbucks is to contribute to the communities it operates in, some residents questioned whether Starbucks would really contribute to the South Boston community. A couple or residents said they'd been repeatedly rebuffed at the West Broadway Starbucks when asking for gift certificates for charity auctions. When another resident said he'd gotten a $100 gift certificate there for his group's auction, some did not seem to believe him.
One resident tore into Waugh when he said that as an example of what Starbucks does, its workers and even some of its costumers helped clean up a park in Roxbury last week. Why is Starbucks doing something like that in Roxbury, where it has no stores, rather than in South Boston, where it already has one or three or five, she asked. Waugh explained Boston Starbucks had teamed up with citywide youth group, which made the choice to clean up the park, not Starbucks.
Starbucks supporters also attended the meeting. One nearby resident said she can't wait for the Starbucks to open - and to stay open at night.
"I'm so delighted and excited that people will have an opportunity for some place to go besides a bar," she said. When she complained about bar patrons urinating in her backyard, an opponent said they'd still do; a Starbucks won't deter bar-exiting backyard urinators.
Supporters said they didn't understand how opponents could support an Italian restaurant that would have stayed open until 1 a.m. was better than the Starbucks now planned for the space.
One resident rose and, after loudly declaring herself a tea drinker, she praised building owner Michael Norton for taking a dump of an eyesore and replacing it with a good looking building and said Starbucks should be allowed in.