For the past several months, the so-called Seven Corners juncture has been the focus of a debate over what businesses belong in Portland. The small business center sits at the confusing crossroads of Division and 20th; SE Ladd and Tammarack also slice into the tangle of roads. Over the past several months, many members in the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Development Association have been vocally resisting a developer's plans to site a Starbucks in the otherwise locally owned business district.
A petition was circulated to prevent developer Peter Perrin from building a Starbucks there. In November, someone sabotaged three nearby Starbucks stores by filling the door locks with glue. For many, Starbucks represents a threat to local business. For others, the mega-corporation, with tens of thousands of outlets across the world, represents a certain homogenization of culture. (Starbucks representatives point out their company offers progressive business practices, like health benefits for any employee who works more than 20 hours per week.)
Within the neighborhood, there could not be any greater contrast: Across the street from the newly opened Starbucks is the worker-owned Red & Black Café. Decorated with second-hand sofas and cluttered with left-leaning magazines, the Red & Black is a common gathering place for activists. A year ago, someone ignited Portland Tribune and Mercury newspaper boxes outside the coffee shop. There was a posting on IndyMedia (indymedia.org) in which the writer claimed responsibility for fighting against the "corporate media."
The vandalism occurred the night before Starbucks was scheduled to open. Even so, employees quickly tacked plywood over the shattered windows and the coffee shop opened on time, handing out free coffee to patrons. Starbucks claims to be reviewing tapes from security cameras for any clues.
But the debate is far from over. Local TV stations and The Oregonian quickly began wagging fingers at "anarchists." According to the daily paper, developer Perrin points his finger at the neighborhood association for not calming dissent. "They've stirred it up to the point that people are creating criminal acts," he stated.
But those news reports gloss over Perrin's longstanding friction with the community and his strong-headed approach to developing a business complex there. Against community wishes, he's plowed ahead with plans. Some adjacent business owners have also claimed that during the permitting process Perrin hid the fact he was planning to place a Starbucks there. At several points during the process he apparently even resisted meeting with the neighborhood association.
The debate over a Starbucks at Seven Corners falls within the context of a national debate about the impact that mega-corporations have on local, urban economies. On the very same day that Starbucks began serving up lattes in southeast Portland, the Chicago City Council delayed zoning changes that would have allowed a Wal-Mart to move two stores into low-income neighborhoods in west and south Chicago. Lobbied by neighborhood activists and organized labor, the city council stepped in to halt plans. The debate has filled their city hall with protesters, for and against the mega-corporation. Wal-Mart, which primarily locates its stores in rural and suburban areas, has stated they are using Chicago as a test market for stores in other major urban areas.