Lileks: One last cup of coffee at our neighborhood's doomed Caribou

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2013 - 10:56 PM

Be honest. When you read the headline, Mayo says 49 out of 50 states want them, you thought: Which one doesn’t? Is there some paranoid state full of compulsive hand-washers who think, Ick! Sick people! Keep them out of here.

My money’s on one of the smaller hangnail states, like Delaware.

Then you read the headline Caribou will permanently close the doors on 80 stores, and perhaps you thought: I hope they let the people out first. I’m sure they’re giving everyone advance notice, although you can bet one manager will wake up in the middle of the night a week after closing the store and realize he didn’t check the restrooms.

Eighty stores! Some will be rebranded as “Peet’s,” which looks like a euphemism for the end result of coffee consumption. But if you’re a Minneapolis Caribou patron, you read the story and you sighed with relief. Only one closure in the City of Lakes.

There’s one in my neighborhood. I like it because it’s A) closer than Starbucks, and B) it is not Starbucks. It has the woody theme that makes you feel you’re up at the cabin, except for an unfamiliar guy in the argyle shirt standing by a cash register.

Curious, I checked to see which store had been commanded to unplug the pot for good.

Well, drat. It’s my Caribou.

That’s how you feel about these places: If you go there, it’s yours, and they shouldn’t take it away from us. You imagine a hole in the neighborhood, and even though it’ll be filled with a store that sells gluten-free pet snacks or six-buck cupcakes, it won’t be the same. Oh, where will we go for coffee now?

The Starbucks at the end of the block, I guess. Which is also ours.

Until Starbucks is crushed by Peets, anyway. The Starbucks used to be a Rexall, which was crushed by the Walgreens across the street, which will be crushed when CVS builds a drugstore in its parking lot, which will be done in when drug companies download pharmaceuticals directly into your bloodstream by satellite. That’s how it goes.

But it has a human cost. Not literally; I mean, the manager doesn’t say, “Store’s closing, everyone on the funeral pyre.” I asked the clerk what he was going to do now, and he said he didn’t know.

“Look for a job,” he shrugged. “It’s kind of a bummer.”

It would seem to be the very definition of a bummer. A decision made far away by bean counters — literally, in this case — meant he was out of work. Can’t complain to the management — they’re way off in Germany, calling the shots from abroad.

Now the clerks here know how Greeks feel.

I’m writing this from the doomed store. There are five customers; can’t be more than $14 worth of purchases between us. Everyone is soaking up the free Wi-Fi, which we expect as our birthright. It’s like your parents going to the counter at Woolworths and demanding a radio and a typewriter.

The coffee could be brackish mud that made you feel like you swallowed a railroad spike, but hey, free Wi-Fi! So people nurse the swill for two hours — then complain when management asks them to buy another cup while they’re downloading a 12GB pirated Blu-ray from some Russian server. Fine. I’ll go sit in the parking lot and finish. Greedheads.

So it’s not a surprise that they’re closing. Between the competition and the table-campers, it’s a surprise that they stayed open.

Question: How come there’s money for the Vikings and maybe Mayo, but not Caribou?

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