Starbucks vs. Canadian Tire

While I was traveling in September, Starbucks opened up shop in the Tweel building at the corner of Kent and University in downtown Charlottetown. While we’ve had pretend “proudly serving Starbucks” outlets in several locations on the Island, this is the first bona fide Starbucks here and given my late-to-the-party love of a good cappuccino, and the fact that Starbucks is on my way to work each morning, I’m forced to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

By gut reaction is bad thing, but, to be honest, I’m not sure whether that’s my head talking or years worth of “local = good, multinational = bad” rhetoric coursing through my heart.

Starbucks just feels evil; I’m not actually sure whether it is evil.

I thought about this on Saturday while Oliver were on the way to Canadian Tire to buy a replacement flap for our ailing upstairs toilet.

Canadian Tire, for those of you in the international audience, is a national Canadian dry-goods merchant that, as its advertising has been saying for years, sells more than just tires.  You can buy everything from television sets to kayaks at Canadian Tire, and belief in essential excellentness of Canadian Tire is tantamount to an article of Canadian citizenship (it is said that “40 percent of Canadians shop at Canadian Tire every week”).

Oliver and I were on our way to Canadian Tire to buy a toilet flap because that’s where they sell toilet flaps.  When I worked at a Canadian Tire store as a teenager I learned that there are entire categories of products for which Canadian Tire simply is the place that Canadians shop.  Where else would you look for Armor All. Or bulbs for your rear taillight. Or rat poison. Or a bicycle pump.

And so, on my way to Canadian Tire, I was wondering why I wasn’t on my way to a small, local, artisanal toilet flap maker instead of a large national toilet flap-selling chain.

And if I’m happy to shop for toilet flaps at Canadian Tire — indeed if it feels only proper and patriotic to do so — shouldn’t I be equally satisfied buying my cappuccino from Starbucks, a chain that, for many, holds the same saintly place in the consumer consciousness.

None of this would amount to anything more than personal taste if it weren’t for the fact that my gut “Starbucks is evil” reaction extends to other people who go to Starbucks

I see them all inside there as I walk by every day and secretly think to myself “how could they” with sanctimony I would otherwise reserve for, say, murderers or Hummer drivers or, at least, people who don’t compost.

This doesn’t seem like a very rationale stance to take.  And, who knows, perhaps I’m robbing myself of good coffee with my knee-jerkiness.

I’d welcome the opinion of others in this regard: is it more ethical to get my coffee elsewhere and, if so, why?


Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on October 13, 2009 - 20:17 Permalink

Canadian Tire or Home Hardware or any one of the number of chain hardware stores are usually the only place in town to buy toilet flaps or AmorAll.

But Starbucks is not the only place to buy coffee.
With Canadian Tire, you often don’t have a choice (unless going without is a choice).

You can make your own choices about coffee — but your logic is flawed.

Morgan Roderick's picture
Morgan Roderick on October 13, 2009 - 20:34 Permalink

Well, I’ve recently given some thought to the fact that Starbucks own the entire supply chain.

<li>Plantations (where did fair trade go?)</li>
<li>Franchised supply of everything inside and outside the shop</li>

So the local franchise taker might be the only positive thing about it, creating a few local jobs … but I’d wager that the jobs created in a non-franchise coffee shop would be much better for the staff and the local economy.

Not that many positive associations about Starbuck’s for me … and I bet that if you ask them to make anything outside the regular menu, you’ll get a negative response.

So, I pretty much have the same knee jerk reaction to Starbuck’s as you.

What about some Textile / Markdown formatting for the comments?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 13, 2009 - 20:36 Permalink

But the predominance of Canadian Tire is only due to repeated choices, of a similar nature, that rendered the possibility of choice moot.&#160

Twenty-five years ago I would have had many more places to buy a toilet flap on Prince Edward Island than I do now; the market dominance of Canadian Tire and other bigger stores has now effectively put out of business all but the last hangers on in the independent hardware marketplace, and so I’m left without choice.&#160 Similar story for Staples vs. independent stationary stores, etc.

Nathan's picture
Nathan on October 13, 2009 - 21:03 Permalink

I’d wager there are more places to buy a toilet flap in Charlottetown TODAY than there were twenty-five years ago.

Also not all box stores are equal. I don’t have the source, but Canadian Tire and Home Hardware are among the last to still have full-time employees. Most other retail chains are nearly all part-time employees that are not entitled to the same rights and benefits as full-time employees.

LC's picture
LC on October 13, 2009 - 21:10 Permalink

You CAN buy toilet flaps in other locations (Home Hardware and True Value) but since the local is less predominant in that field does not make the argument that you should buy less local in the area of coffee where we have other local options, locally roasted beans or places which are a lot more unique (Beanz, Timothy’s) but the supply chain like fair trade and support for the local area should come into play — on the basis they wanted trees cut down outside their business (and which the Mayor wrongly and bizarrely agreed to do) alone shows a different mentality is at work — do you think Campbell at Timothy’s or Lori at Beanz woudl have made such a demand? How much money stays in the local economy like any chain compared to a more locally owned business — I bet the locally owned one helps the local economy more !

Alan's picture
Alan on October 13, 2009 - 22:02 Permalink

Your stance is not based on ethics but what you call “gut” or “knee jerk” which look a lot like anti-trendiness trendiness. Have you inquired into your ethical comfort with the practices of Starbucks or Canadian Tire? You may find they do or do not have systems in place which better comfort your ethical conundrum. Have you also inquired into those practices of small purveyors? I remember once watching a honey wagon empty directly into an Island stream and thinking how wonderful larger service providers can be.

I don’t go to Starbucks, by the way, as it costs way to frigging much. Far better to make your own coffee well using quality ingredients. And I seem to recall Canadian Tire not having my “Crane Old Style” flap. Got it at Home Depot.

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on October 13, 2009 - 23:03 Permalink

One thing I noticed with Starbucks here in Vancouver, where, yes, there are two kitty corner to each other, is that the quality of coffee improved in the city after Starbucks raised the bar. Prior to Starbucks, coffee here was pretty crappy in general, with a few good places on commercial Drive selling the real Italian stuff. Once Starbucks arrived, espresso became a way of life, and within 10 years there was a bona fide coffee culture in town and many dozens of excellent alternatives opened up.

Quality-wise, Starbucks was better than most but it hasn’t kept up with the Cafe Artigianos of the world. They are serving a far superior product, and the interior design of their stores has kept up with the times. Starbucks still seems cool in an early 1990s kind of way.

Ethically though, trending towards more local and more ethical is a good thing and their are several coffee stores here that beat Starbucks on all of those scores. I still have a bit of a grudge against Starbucks corporate after the way they invaded the Toronto market by setting up within spitting distance of mom and pop operations and drove many of them out of business. there is competition and there is predatory practice, and I think Starbucks crossed the line.

For me, they are no different now than Canadian Tire…a kind of benign blight on the landscape, available everywhere, useful in a pinch but never the preferred place to get stuff.

Dan James's picture
Dan James on October 14, 2009 - 03:44 Permalink

If you’re a true Canadian you’ll go the extra half block and get your coffee at Tim Hortons. In Canada Tim Hortons is to coffee as Canadian Tire is to toilet flaps and Armor All.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on October 14, 2009 - 10:07 Permalink

Forget your aspirations for social engineering. Spend your money where they sell the product you like the most. If enough people agree with you, the business you choose will succeed. If they don’t, the business will fail.

Coffee snobs, trendy storefronts or lineups of sheep be damned. Like what you like, not what image the liking a particular product projects. And if one feels the need to feel good about something, there are better ways of doing it then by making the purchase of a cup of coffee a moral decision, IMHO.

freisprecheinrichtung's picture
freisprecheinri... on October 14, 2009 - 11:50 Permalink

I am new to your blog site.You are good at writing your feelings very perfectly.By the way,tell me the reason why you have put such big fonts for your article.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on October 14, 2009 - 13:38 Permalink

What the heck is a toilet flap? You mean a lid? In my experience you buy a toilet seat, which happens to come with a lid. I bought mine — which has “slam proof” technology — at Home Depot.

Rob Lantz's picture
Rob Lantz on October 14, 2009 - 13:45 Permalink

I see here that I am simply ignorant of toilet design. There is indeed a device called a “flapper” or more colloquially, it seems, a “flap”. My bad.

Josh Biggley's picture
Josh Biggley on October 14, 2009 - 13:47 Permalink

I remember back in my motherland (ok, Windsor Ontario — same difference) we did a presentation to city council on why they should not build more big box stores and, instead, focus on re-building the commercial centres that were distributed throughout the city neighbourhoods. They, of course, rejected our presentation, but I was amazed by some of the facts that I was able to dig up about local vs. big box. Here are some of the more startling issues:

A study in St. Albans, Vermont determined that big box retail cost taxpayers $2.50 for every $1 in tax revenue generated by the new businesses. These cuts in tax revenue were generated, in part, by an overall decrease 110,000 sq feet of retail space and 381 retail jobs.

In other studies, locally owned businesses were found to generate $68 of economic activity per $100 in revenue compared with $43 per $100 for big box stores. This was due, in part, to local businesses spending 53.3% of their revenues within the state (almost 45% of that in the surrounding county) vs a combined 14.4% for big box retails.

Locally owned businesses also contributed more money, per square foot, to local charities — $179 vs. $105. (Ever wonder why Wal-Mart and the like have those big signs proclaiming how much they contribute to local charities?)

Most of these stats come from the National Trust Main Street Institute and The NTMSI has an impressive track record, helping municipalities generate startling returns on investment into locally owned, “main street” businesses. (Numbers like $28 for every $1 invested come to mind, but I can’t find that link anymore.)

If I were contemplating this decision, I would ask myself — who is more likely to be concerned with my well-being, economically, socially and environmentally — a locally owned businesses or a multi-national chain? In my case, the stats simply reinforce my position. I, too, wonder why people go to Starbucks. I don’t necessarily relegate them to ‘evil’ status, but perhaps the unengaged, disinterested, or indifferent. In the end though, it is their choice to choose Starbucks as much as it is my choice to choose not to partake. At least I can firmly state that I’ve made the effort to make an educated choice.

Paul's picture
Paul on October 14, 2009 - 15:09 Permalink

Starbucks is not a franchise (… AND the last time I went to “Canadian” Tire, most of the products (well actually almost all of them) are produced in China. Canadian Tire IS the Tim Horton’s of Canadian Big Box Hardware stores — crappy coffee at cheap prices. BTW — I’ll be going there later today to pick up some paint and obviously I’ll be picking up a Tim’s coffe on the way.

Coffee Lover's picture
Coffee Lover on October 15, 2009 - 00:01 Permalink

Sometimes I believe we reflexively dislike the Walmarts and Starbucks because of their popularity and success. I’m not really a Walmart shopper, the main reason for that is I don’t like wading through the crowds and lineups there.

I do very much like Home Hardware for small items like toilet flaps for this reason: they have great, knowledgeable customer service.

I get my car serviced at a small, local garage for the same reason.

However, many times small and local does not translate into better service; and often translates into items not available when you need them. Or bad coffee. For example, I followed Peter’s search for a good cafe latte with great interest, as I had little luck in that same search. Even though Mavor’s served Starbuck’s coffee, their lattes were weak and pathetic. I think the secret to a good latte is being able to make good espresso and I’ve just recently found two places in town that can do that — Leonhard’s and Starbuck’s. Leonhard’s has wonderful, simple food with a great atmosphere as well.

I had to go back to buying Starbuck’s coffee beans this week because the local coffee roaster whose beans I love which are sold at the Riverview Market and the Root Cellar has an extremely spotty record of supply and often I can’t get what I want when I need it.

People love to buy local, but service and supply are important in keeping loyal customers. Starbuck’s and Walmart certainly have the supply side nailed down, and, I would argue, most times, their service is quite good as well.

However, my feeling is que sera, sera. Buy a cup of joe at Mickey D’s if you like it — I won’t judge you.

However, a interesting take on Walmart cribbed from Wikipedia info:

Jay Nordlinger of National Review argues that Wal-Mart is attacked simply because it is a leader of the Fortune 500 list or the largest employer in America, and a “free-market success story”.

Penn & Teller devoted an episode of Bullshit! to an analysis of Wal-Mart criticism as a social movement. They theorized that despite the noble rhetoric, the real motivation of “Wal-Mart haters” was rooted in human psychology. They suggested that hating Wal-Mart permits a person “to feel better about themselves” for three main reasons: They “don’t run a greedy international conglomerate”, they aren’t Wal-Mart workers, widely considered “low-skilled, minimum wage drones”, and they aren’t Wal-Mart customers thought of as “toothless, welfare-getting hillbillies”. Wal-Mart stores are unionized in every country outside of North America.

Morgan Roderick's picture
Morgan Roderick on October 15, 2009 - 13:10 Permalink

Hmm … so apparently Starbucks is not a franchise. Does that change anything for the better or worse?

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on October 16, 2009 - 19:39 Permalink

I will repeat the comment I made here a few months back when you posted about the tree cutting debacle. Starbucks is probably not any more evil than other stores. In my experience the employees are happier and more engaged than places like Tim Hortons or the Second Cup. Charlottetown already has a number of coffee shops so will one more push someone out of business, it may in fact draw more people into downtown. Another positive is that like in my neighbourhood in Calgary the story is using an historic building that was previously vacant.

All that said I too resisted Starbucks here in Calgary for several years. I finally succumbed because of the hours (open before 7AM), the quality of the coffee and the atmosphere.

But like I said before Charlottetown already had plenty of places to buy good coffee, it is Cornwall that needs a Starbucks.

chrismears's picture
chrismears on October 16, 2009 - 20:32 Permalink

Neat comments here so far, glad I tuned in when I did. Timely too, I’m just getting back from Starbucks so I have some of their product to temper my musings. I’ve been wrestling with the question you posed too. More than that lately though, I’ve been starting to wonder just why it is that I’m wondering how to react to having our own Starbucks.

Initially I too thought that it was my own “local vs. not-local” politics. That’s when I really started to think too much about this. After all, I really don’t think that way when I get a coffee elsewhere. I don’t really feel that much more special when I just walk the extra 5 minutes back to the house and just make my own coffee in my own kitchen. If I was right about supporting local, then in my own kitchen I should be revelling in the height of “go localness”. After all, I’m grinding my own fair trade coffee, brewing with Island water and using local electricity. I was thinking about this when I was in the line 10 minutes ago.

I wish I had an answer…I’m sure enjoying the “wonder why” part of this discussion so far and I’m wondering what I’ll finally decide on to settle my thoughts on this for now.

One thing that does continually surprise me is the question about just where all these extra customers come from. I remember worrying about the market a little when the news of a new Starbucks broke the water. I was a little concerned about how this wasn’t growing the coffee market in Charlottetown — that it would only further thin the existing market. That thought, Horton’s was just as busy this morning when I walked by. Timothy’s seemed to me to be just a busy this morning when I got my morning fix. Starbucks was full 10, well now 20, minutes ago.

Just where are all the new coffee drinkers coming from anyway?”

Maybe I just need to get back to some queries I’m supposed to be writing.


Oliver's picture
Oliver on October 19, 2009 - 22:36 Permalink

I believe Starbucks in the U.S. sells and uses only Fair Trade beans. I’m not sure what the Fair Trade label guarantees, if anything, but to the extent it does I suppose that’s a way in which buying from them is better than buying from some others. I wonder if there’d be less moral confusion if we weren’t inclined to judge and act toward a corporation as we would a person and member of our community. As has become fashionable to notice, a corporation isn’t really like that.

Craig's picture
Craig on October 20, 2009 - 04:29 Permalink

1. Tim’s is NOT Canadian any longer. It’s owned by Americans.
2. Do a little analysis on how Starbucks treats its employees vs. Tim’s. I think most of you will be surprised.
3. Do some more analysis on what Starbucks is doing in terms of fair trade, the environment, Africa, etc. Now check to see what Tim’s practices are around the coffee chain.
4. Yes, Starbucks is more expensive. The coffee is better. You get what you pay for.
5. Neither Tim’s nor Starbucks sells toilet flaps; something for which we should all be grateful.
6. There is no number six.

So how about we all check our prejudices at the door and attempt to look at this a little more rationally and a little less emotionally.

Len Currie's picture
Len Currie on October 20, 2009 - 17:25 Permalink

Hey Peter!

I actually posted a very similar post on my (relatively new) blog at

Rob's picture
Rob on November 21, 2009 - 21:32 Permalink

I just wanted to point out the extreme lack of research being done here. Sure, you may have your apprehension about purchasing from multi-national, corporate stores, but have you ever thought about a company who uses it’s size for good?

Starbucks is a major charity supporter, and donates millions and millions of dollars to charities across the globe in an effort to help the communities and general areas that Starbucks resides in.

For example: buy a bottle of water from Starbucks, and $0.10Cdn of that is directed to the Ethos Water Fund, which is a social mission attempting to help children and their families around the world get clean water, and raising awareness of the world water crisis. (

Or: The CUP (Caring Unites Partners) Fund, which is a financial assistance program helping partners (aka Starbucks employees) in times of special need, such as when natural disasters occur. Starbucks held a huge convention in New Orleans after Katrina hit, and dipped into this CUP Fund (which almost every partner, by choice, donates to), to relieve the extremely costly process of rebuilding the lives of those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Where was Tim Hortons? Or Second Cup? Or Timothy’s? Or Beanz?

Do you know what Tim Hortons does with all of their pastries at the end of the day? They throw them out. They don’t even offer them to employees, despite if they’re still good or not. What does Starbucks do with theirs? Makes a daily donation to a charity/organization of their choice (obviously the organization is selected based on the location of each Starbucks). I happen to know that the Starbucks in Charlottetown donates all of their pastries at the end of the day to the Salvation Army, to help feed families and individuals in need.

Starbucks also donates to literacy programs across Canada and the United States to help improve literacy in high need areas.

Now, while all of their coffee isn’t Fair Trade, they have selected only the best coffees around the world, and are constantly working with the farmers and their communities to help reach the Fair Trade specifications. Starbucks also has their own set of guidelines which they follow to ensure they are buying only from the most socially responsible coffee growers in the world. When they are buying their coffee, Starbucks pays up to 26% above the certified Fair Trade margin. I don’t know about any of the other companies standing on this, but based on most of their sizes, I’d assume they don’t do this.

At this point, I’d also like to point out that Timothy’s is also a multi-national coffee company, with stores in Canada and the US. So, if you’re okay with buying from them, I don’t know what’s getting your panties in a twist about buying from Starbucks — a company who is known for their socially responsible business practices.

There is so much more to Starbucks than a $5 latte. And, to avoid looking like a complete uneducated fool, I’d recommend everyone do their research before slamming a company who is truly about doing good (from donating, to even how they train and coach partners, to their exceptional benefits which apply to BOTH part-time and full-time employees). Otherwise, you’re hurting a company who is all about helping out not only each and every community a Starbucks is in, but even the communities they purchase their coffee and tea from.

I don’t know about you, but I know about this company. And I know that when I buy my $5 Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte, I’m helping improve our world in more ways than one. I’ll drink to that. Any day.

Melissa's picture
Melissa on May 18, 2010 - 18:02 Permalink

People that think that Starbucks is an evil corporation are flat out uneducated and nothing more then narrowminded. Starbucks to the US is like Tim Hortons to Canada. There is one on every street corner and sometimes 2 on a street. Get it together people. ITS COFFEE!!!!!! If you dont like whole bean coffee and prefer the additives that dumb down your coffee, go to Tim Hortons. If you want a cappucino made the proper way (and not from a powder like your almighty Timmys), go to Starbucks. As for the locals, guess what people, its called BUSINESS. If this world had one coffee shop, one hardware store, one car dealership, one clothing retailer, etc etc etc this world would be an incredibly boring place.

I happen to know people who work at this location and this “evil” corporation that you speak of donates bucket loads of dollars to charities, donates food and coffee to the local salvation army, in the recent economic slump that just happened the owner of Starbucks worked for a barsitas pay (yes hes financially set but its fact of the matter. Did Danny Murphy at Tim Hortons here in PEI do that?), EVERY employee has benefits as well as the perks of having free coffee which gives them an option when it comes down to deciding what type of coffee they would like to enjoy rather then just the pre-bagged/pre ground foiled bag of Tim Hortons or Robins coffee that got sent in the shipping box 6 months ago. Also, the employees have informed me that other workers at other local cafes are in there on a regular basis and vice versa. Business thrives on competition.

Fact of the matter: Its coffee. Smarten up people. If people want to pay $2 for a cup of coffee its their decision. It doesnt make a corporation “evil” or “corrupt”. Not only that, I choose to go to a coffee shop where people are enjoying themselves and making the atmosphere pleasant rather then get a half assed cup of coffee (which nine times out of 10 is made wrong or cold) thrown at me from the 17 year old high school drop out who cant piece together a sentence other then a grunt which I can assume to be a “here you go” or “thank you”. I like to go where someone knows my name and will ask me how my day is going or take 5 minutes and sit down with me while they are on their break. This evil evil evil spot on the corner of University Ave is actually quite enjoyable and beyond all that its a PERSONABLE spot to be. Its too bad you people cant put aside your clouded tunnel vision opinion (or lack there of) of a company you know nothing about and give it a whirl. You would be surprised.

Hopefully you got your toilet fixed while supporting one of those icky corporations who set out to do like anyone in business. AKA Make money. Hence why people go into business.

Jason's picture
Jason on July 18, 2011 - 00:58 Permalink

Are you the Melissa that works at Starbucks? If so then I agree with you lol.