Seattle, WA – Starbucks is closing 16 locations in major cities on both coasts, citing safety concerns for its employees in those areas.
“We are closing stores in some locations that have experienced a high volume of challenging incidents that make it difficult to create a safe and welcoming environment,” a spokesman told The Washington Post.
Starbucks declined to cite specific incidents that led to the stores’ closures but said company executives recognized that employees were dealing with problems related to drug use, mental health, and race-related conflict in the areas where those stores were located.
“You’re… seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities — personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and more,” Starbucks Senior Vice Presidents of U.S. Operations Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson wrote in a letter to employees announcing the closures.
“We know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores too. We read every incident report you file — it’s a lot,” the letter continued.
The company is closing six stores in Los Angeles, six locations in and around Seattle, one in Philadelphia, and one in Union Station in Washington, DC, The Washington Post reported.
Stroud and Nelson wrote that the company could take steps like closing bathrooms to the public or closing some locations altogether.
In June, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the coffee chain was considering closing its bathrooms to the public again because the country’s mental health crisis has made it too dangerous.
Schultz talked about the controversial bathroom policy during an interview at The New York Times DealBook D.C. policy forum on June 9.
Starbucks instituted an open bathroom policy after an incident four years ago with police at a Philadelphia location.
Police responded to the coffee shop for a call about two men who were trespassing and refused to leave in April of 2018.
The employees told officers that the two males had come in, sat down, and then later decided to use the restroom.
At the time, Starbucks had a policy that only customers could use the bathrooms in its coffee shops.
Officers called a supervisor to the scene and the men were ultimately arrested for trespassing.
But when police went to book the men on charges, Starbucks wasn’t interested in pursuing a case.
Starbucks apologized to the men they asked police to arrest and said that they would review their store policies.
We apologize to the two individuals and our customers for what took place at our Philadelphia store on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/suUsytXHks
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) April 14, 2018
Shortly thereafter, Starbucks announced that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase,” according to The New York Times.
The company also closed its stores for a day of “unconscious bias” training for its employees.
Schultz said at the time that he wasn’t trying to turn Starbucks into public restrooms but that problems with bias made it the right decision, The New York Times reported.
“Because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are ‘less than,’” he said at the time. “We want you to be ‘more than.’”
While the move was lauded at the time, it has backfired terribly across the country, especially in urban locations where employees have had maintain now-filthy facilities and contend with a growing population of mentally-disturbed individuals who have made it their primary restroom.
Schultz told The New York Times that the growing mental health crisis had made it difficult for employees to manage the stores under Starbucks’ current policies.
He said that the decision was an “issue of just safety” and that Starbucks might need policies to limit the number of non-customers inside its stores.
“We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” Schultz explained. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”
The announcement that 16 stores would be shuttered due to safety concerns was announced about a month after Schulz’s interview.