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EDITORIALS: THE SATURDAY PAGE

East L.A., buzzed

With the area's first Starbucks, the good news is that a transformation is brewing. That's also the bad news.

September 22, 2007

Ah, Starbucks! The neighborhood is looking up! Oh, Starbucks. There goes the neighborhood. It's the end for East L.A., which will now look just like everywhere else. It's the beginning for East L.A., which will finally look like everywhere else: coffee-swilling soccer moms, students tapping on laptops, pinstriped neo-yuppies ordering soy lattes with shots of something or other. Anywhere USA.

What's the right way to feel about the storied community's first-ever outlet of the trend-setting, industry-driving chain that erased all earlier definitions of "coffee shop"? From a straight dollars-and-cents angle, it's easy: Business investment is good, especially when it provides residents jobs and more choices for their consumer dollars. This particular chain also gives East L.A. a sort of psychic caffeine buzz: validation. The neighborhood has arrived. It's good enough for a Starbucks.

At the ribbon-cutting Thursday (shhh, don't tell anyone the place has been open and serving grande iced caramel macchiatos since March), county Supervisor Gloria Molina noted that it took some arm-twisting to get the company to open a shop in the cradle of Chicano culture. It's the riddle of business development: Upscale chain stores say they will come when the residents have money to spend; residents say they will have money to spend when the upscale chain stores come and start hiring them.

Cutting through the Möbius strip is public money. Lots of it. Taxpayers are financing an extension of the Metro Gold Line through the heart of East L.A. on 3rd Street, and the promise of hungry and thirsty riders is spurring the arrival of chains. Just down the road is a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

It's odd, then, that this new Starbucks is a drive-through. It's a perfect location for it, near on- and off-ramps for the Pomona Freeway, but that irritates some who see such shops not as validation but as encroachment by outsiders who roll down their windows for half-soy-whatevers, then roll them right back up and continue on their way downtown. Other critics see new businesses as proof that longtime residents are being priced out of town by a wave of ex-suburbanites looking for a shorter commute. What one coffee drinker may see as investment and another may decry as gentrification, yet another may brand disrespect.

The arrival of Starbucks means more chain stores are coming. To longtime residents of East L.A. -- just like anywhere else -- that's venti-sized good news. With, perhaps, a wistful shot of regret.

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