Starbucks almost deserted in the middle of the day? Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?


Had a strange experience a little while ago.

The photographs above and below were taken at 12:57 p.m. today inside the Gervais Street Starbucks. And no, they weren’t closed for renovations. In fact, there were a few customers in there — I just shot the empty parts.

But… there are never empty parts in that Starbucks. Or at least, I don’t remember it happening to this extent before. Normally, if you meet someone there for a business meeting, it’s hard to find two or three seats together. I mentioned the eerie emptiness to my barista, and she said others had commented on it. She quickly noted that they had been quite busy earlier in the day, which I fully believed, but still — this empty, at lunchtime?

What gives? Didn’t everybody get a Starbucks gift card for Father’s Day (I certainly did)?

I remarked on the phenomenon to a young woman who was one of my few fellow patrons, and she had a one-word explanation: “Summer.” (When you’re young, female and attractive, it’s best to keep your answers short when old guys you don’t know start chatting you up.)

Perhaps so. One of the first things I noticed about Columbia when I moved back here in 1987 was that once the Legislature goes home, the town seems to be deserted. That applies to Mondays and Fridays during the session as well as the off-season.

Add that to USC being out, and things just really slow down. They’ve slowed down the last few days here on the blog. The comments, anyway. I haven’t noticed much dropoff in pageviews.

It’s like our activity just drops a few notches when the lawmakers go home — even when what we do has little to do with them, directly.

That’s one theory, anyway. I admit that it’s not entirely satisfactory. But you tell me — why was I almost alone in Starbucks today?


12 thoughts on “Starbucks almost deserted in the middle of the day? Can the Zombie Apocalypse be far behind?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, it’s not just Starbucks. Moments before, I had had little trouble parking at the nearby Publix. The lot was about 90 percent full, but as I’ve noted before, at that time of day it’s usually overflowing.

    This may be a downtown phenomenon, or a weekday one. I was at the Harbison Starbucks (the free-standing one, not the one in the Mall) Saturday, and it was packed. Had to wait in a lengthy queue, but they kept it moving with the usual Starbucks efficiency.

    You know, Starbucks — which really, really ought to advertise on my blog…

    1. Doug Ross

      This sort of backs my feeling that Columbia isn’t a thriving economy. It’s USC and the State House and little more. I’m not a futurist (but I play one on TV)… but I would think communities built around colleges may have some difficulty in the next couple decades as students move toward online education as well as the student loan debt bubble causes a big decrease in enrollment. USC jacked up tuition another 3.1% for next year. Those increases continue to outpace inflation. There will be a correction at some point.

      1. Kathy

        USC could add a lot of online students. Evidently, the powers that be have decided to be dragged kicking and screaming into that world.

  2. Karen Blackmon

    Sorry, think it’s a temporary hiccup, mostly having to do with summer. don’t make “much ado about nothing” :=)

  3. Scout

    I was driving down Gervais just this week and passed Starbucks as my air conditioning was struggling to keep up since I had just gotten in the car and thought to myself – ugh who can drink coffee now – because I was really HOT. I do realize they have cold drinks too, but I don’t usually get them. I think of hot coffee there. Maybe you should have checked if Marble Slab down the street was packed instead. I’m going with Summer as an explanation.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    I don’t think it can get hot enough for me not to want a cup of coffee. And “a cup of coffee” is, properly speaking, hot. A cold drink is something else again.

    My science may be a bit off here, but my theory is that as caffeine delivery systems go, a hot liquid gets into the bloodstream faster…

  5. Norm Ivey

    Summer is a good enough explanation for me. USC closing for the summer and legislators leaving town probably triggered a cutback in hours for a lot of service industry workers, resulting in even fewer bodies. The heat makes folks want to move less. People go on vacation, but nobody comes here for vacation. This is a government economy–state-county-city, USC, and Fort Jackson. Without those institutions, all other industry in Columbia would probably dry up.

    I finished my M.Ed. degree virtually entirely online at USC-Aiken. I’m at a tech conference now in San Antonio. There are districts adding otherwise unavailable courses to their curriculum, and entire degree programs are available online now. It’s the way of education in the future.

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