Philadelphia’s new downtown Barnes and Noble bookstore opened several months ago to mixed reviews. Negative comments concerned the new store’s lack of a public restroom and a café, something that made the former bookstore on Rittenhouse Square a “go to” place for the homeless and drug addicted. To be sure, there was always a fair share of urban bohemians who would sit for hours in the café with their laptops or books “borrowed” from the shelves. Management didn’t mind that many of these sitters never purchased something from the café. They were very liberal in that regard.
Any open public restroom in downtown Philadelphia is sure to draw its fair share of people who seem to live only to trash public spaces. Such was the case with the Rittenhouse store, despite the fact that the men’s room there had a cute diaper changing station for dads who wanted to help out mom.
The truth is that public restrooms in downtown Philadelphia inevitably turn into disaster areas. The “public”—the homeless, urban graffiti thugs and just plain trashy people—ruin everything.
When the new Barnes and Noble store at 17th and Chestnut Streets opened its doors, management there breathed a sigh of relief: No more horrendous clean-ups; no getting the security guard to see what was happening inside a locked stall that had been occupied by the same person for hours.
In Philadelphia, shooting up in public is not an uncommon sight: in my own gentrified neighborhood I once witnessed a man “helping” a friend by injecting a syringe into a vein in his neck, a process that took 15 minutes in the middle of a sidewalk in broad daylight.
There’s a romance to sitting in a café. Café life was prominent in Paris in the Twenties when legions of writers and poets lounged about scribbling in notebooks, some no doubt “posing” to be seen and admired while others really worked. When I visited Vienna as a travel-writer and was taken to Café Central – the café where the beginning of the Russian Revolution was planned – and where Adolph Hitler would visit when he was young and trying to sell his art work, I was told by my guide that many people spent hours in the café and did so after buying just one cup of coffee.
Yet café life in Vienna seemed far different than it is in Philadelphia.
In Philadelphia, Starbucks can be said to be the ‘people’s café.’ The Starbucks at Macy’s at 13th and Chestnut Streets, for instance, has long been noted for attracting drifters and hours-long table occupiers, but few are writing poetry. Often when I would visit the place reminded me of a homeless shelter.
Starbucks was in the news recently when the regional director of a number of Starbucks stores, Shannon Phillips, won a $25.6 million lawsuit against the corporation when she was fired in 2020 because of an incident in a store near Rittenhouse Square.
That incident involved two Black men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, who in April 2018 went to the store and asked to use the bathroom but were told they could not because they weren’t buying anything. The men proceeded to sit at a table and wait for a business associate whom they thought would be arriving shortly.
Starbucks policy at that time allowed non-paying customers to sit in the café, but ironically these same non-paying customers were not allowed to use the bathroom. Despite this confusing open seating “rule,” the Black district manager in charge of the Rittenhouse Square store ordered a white employee to call 911 to have the men removed.
Police arrived and arrested the men although the department later stated that they were unaware that Starbucks had a policy of allowing non-purchasing customers to occupy a table. Philadelphia’s police chief at the time, Richard Ross, a black man, would later apologize for arresting the men.
As the story goes, Robinson and Nelson were waiting to meet up with a white male real estate agent to talk about the purchase of a property. Usually, when people wait for a third party at a café or restaurant they wait to be seated when the missing party arrives. The question also begs: who goes to an “organized” business meeting in a café or restaurant without cash? At least bring enough change so that you can order a cursory cup of coffee until the one who might be paying arrives.
If you can’t do that, then you should be hosting that business meeting in your mom’s kitchen.
The arrest would come back to haunt the police, especially since the men were held for ten hours in a jail cell. This would provide excellent fodder for woke activists who would later demonstrate (with cries of “racism”) in front of the store.
The fact that a store operated by a black manager had pulled the plug on two black men would later be conveniently buried.
My experiences of living in all black communities, namely Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, taught me that when it comes to no-nonsense criticism of certain “urban” behaviors, blacks are harder on blacks than whites could ever hope to be. This would certainly include any action involving calling the police.
On rowdy bus rides through impoverished neighborhoods, I’ve witnessed black grandmothers stand up and yell at groups of hooligan teenagers to “Get it together because what you’re doing is an insult to your ancestors.” These fearless ladies would no more think of using the ‘race card’ to defend incivility than they would think of not attending church on Sundays— unlike the newer generation of Obama-fed victim-soul activists who were quick to protest outside the Rittenhouse Square store.
Philadelphia is almost an entirely black city; a white racist living here would find it extremely difficult to get through the day with so many black faces. Simply put, there’s no room for (real) racism in Philadelphia. Ride the Broad Street subway and you’ll find that 95% of the riders are black; the same is true, though to a lesser extent, of the Market Frankford El.
A white racist would go stark raving mad in Philadelphia.
When news of the arrest went viral, and when Robinson and Nelson settled with Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia for an undisclosed amount of money (not to mention the offer of a free college education), the common perception among the masses was that the two men were ejected from the store by white-racist management.
Meanwhile, Starbucks regional director, Shannon Phillips, a white woman, who played no part in the call to 911, was given orders by Starbucks higher-ups to place a white employee at the Rittenhouse store on administrative leave as part of an effort to save Starbucks from the woke mob.
Phillips’s lawsuit stated that Starbucks “took steps to punish a white employee who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia, in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.”
When Phillips questioned the move, Starbucks fired her.
What to do when the woke mob is at your door? You go the route of the Stalinesque purge. In 2018, the year this incident occurred, Cancel Culture was just beginning to feel its muscle; soon would come the great woke purges that would see the dismantling of historic statues all over the nation.
“African Americans are obviously viewed with greater suspicion by police and perhaps by residents,” Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania said at the time. “I don’t discount the idea that as we saw in the Starbucks incident, the police are responding to complaints that are themselves suspect from business owners or residents who are white.”
How odd that Roper’s comment contained no mention of the black manager ultimately responsible for the Rittenhouse Square store arrest.
With Phillips now officially cancelled, Starbucks announced that it was rescinding its bathroom policy. From now on, all Starbucks bathrooms would be open for paying and non-paying customers, for walk-ins, the homeless who want a cozy safe space to shoot up, the mentally ill, anyone and everyone.
Starbucks in effect would become a soup kitchen, a municipal porta potty with coffee on the side, an urban latrine.
I recall visiting the Starbucks at Macy’s shortly after the bathroom rule was relaxed. The poor bathroom had become a cavalcade of smells and floor accidents. There was also always a line of people waiting to get inside, usually because some poor soul inside fell sleep, or was using the sink as a bathtub, or because they were having problems finding a syringe-worthy vein
To be sure, there were many cries of “Hallelujah!” when a Camden jury awarded Phillips 26.6 million and $600,000 in compensatory damages. Starbucks brass, who said that Phillips’ firing was the result of an “absence of leadership,” suddenly went silent.
The farce was over.
The jury found that Starbucks had violated the federal civil rights of Phillips, as well as a New Jersey law that prohibits discrimination based on race.
“Starbucks had sought to punish her [Phillips] and other white employees in and around Philadelphia even if they had not been involved in the events that led to the police being called,” The New York Times reported.
Last year, after a favorite Starbucks store at 10th and Chestnut Street was closed because of an increase of incidents inside the store involving chronic homelessness and drug use, there was some talk– but only talk– about the company reversing its open bathroom rule.
In the meantime, the ‘open borders’ drug addicted homeless are headed to a Starbucks nearest you.