Starbucks Finds Central Square a Tough Blend

There's a new blend in town, and the locals are restless.

On Dec. 2, the Starbucks Coffee Co. opened its fifth store in Cambridge since its omnipresent shops first arrived in October 1994. But unlike the previous four, which are scattered around Harvard Square, this new branch is breaking new ground in the heart of Central Square.

"Starbucks is excited to become part of the Central Square community," said Moira Murphy, district manager.

But some Central Square residents are less excited, and fear that what McDonald's did to the family diner, Starbucks may do to the traditional coffee shops that line Central Square.

Some have even taken to the streets to protest the new coffeeshop.

Jeff Duritz, a Pearl Street resident and substance-abuse counselor at a Cambridge homeless shelter, has lived in Central Square for two years. He said he did not mind the presence of the four Starbucks stores in Harvard Square, but when a new Starbucks opened at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Prospect Street, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Duritz started the "Local Flavor League," enlisted 50 volunteers into his cause and braved the cold weather on Saturday morning to hand out leaflets encouraging consumers to "Boycott Starbucks" outside the front door of the new shop.

"I've traveled on three different continents, and I can easily say that Central Square is a unique place," he said. "It's diverse, it's affordable, it's got character. Starbucks represents the opposite of that."

Duritz said he feared the coming of Starbucks would usher in the demise of Central Square's local flair and homegrown businesses. The square has recently been the site of controversy between developers seeking to erect new office complexes, and merchants and activists who fear the flurry of activity will lead to rising rents.

"When Starbucks comes in, property prices go up, and all of a sudden we're like everyone else--we'd be like Harvard Square," Duritz said. "We're distinctive-- we're Central Square.

Officials at Bishoff Solomon, the communications firm that has handled public relations in New England for Starbucks for the past three years, said they were surprised by the public outcry.

"It's very unusual," said Jane Bishoff, a principal and co-owner of the firm. "Starbucks has been welcomed into the New England area [in the past]."

With the addition of the Central Square branch, Starbucks now operates 55 coffee shops in the greater Boston area, with 15 in Boston itself and five in Cambridge.

The other four Starbucks coffeeshops in Cambridge are located near Harvard Square.

The oldest, at the Broadway Marketplace, was built in October 1994. The most recent, on Church Street, opened this February. The other two locations are in The Garage, on Mt. Auburn Street, and at 1662 Mass. Ave., between Harvard and Porter squares.