Starbucks in Prague evokes mixed emotions
New chain threatens local Czech culture, experience
Two weeks ago, while receiving my first official tour of Prague, my group witnessed what some would call a momentous occasion - the opening of the first Starbucks in the city.
Of course, members of my group insisted on visiting the coffeehouse, which opened Jan. 22, where they waited about 20 minutes for the same coffee they could get in America.
Why anyone would want a Starbucks coffee in Prague is beyond me. About three blocks from my apartment are a number of quaint Czech coffeehouses that I think offer better options. Small coffeehouses offer better coffee and desserts, plus Czech beer. The atmospheres are also generally more subdued, which make for great studying spots.
Starbucks representatives claimed they blended their café in with the local culture and architecture, according to Czech Business Weekly. But when I stepped into Starbucks to wait for my group members, it was exactly the same as every other Starbucks I've been to. The only differences were that the prices were in Czech krowns, customers didn't speak English and it was larger than other locations I've visited in the States.
The opening was not only met with long lines of people, but also with protests. A group of activists threatened to boycott the café for encroaching on Czech culture. The controversy was also featured as the cover story of the magazine.
Some of the controversy stems from the location of the café. The new chain is located in Palác Gr?mlingovsk on Malostranské námstí, a historical district of the city near one end of the Charles Bridge. The site is the location of Café Radetzky, a coffeehouse founded in 1874. Prague intellectuals, such as writer Franz Kafka, opera singer Emma Destinnová and modernist painter Jan Zrzav, used to frequent the coffeehouse. A restaurant was most recently at the location before Starbucks moved in.
Starbucks can be found in 43 countries at 15,000 locations. This café in Prague is only the first of many to come. This year alone, Starbucks hopes to open "a dozen or so" coffeehouses in the Czech Republic and Poland, according to Czech Business Weekly. Last year, the chain received the largest ever decline in annual profits, and the number of U.S. customer visits also fell for the first time, according to the magazine.
Yes, some travelers may feel relief or comfort knowing they can drink the same cup of coffee regardless of where they are in the world. But to me, a large part of the abroad "experience" everyone talks about is immersing yourself in the local culture - finding something not offered in America.