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Bryant Simon blames Starbucks for enriching itself by impoverishing America’s civic life, reports Kathy Matheson in an Associated Press dispatch (9/27/09). Bryant is a Temple University history professor and author of "Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks." His research involved spending "up to 15 hours a week in various Starbucks over the past few years," ultimately "visiting about 425 of its coffee shops in nine countries."

While he says he liked the coffee and appreciated "the architectural details of many of the stores," he found the lack of community disturbing. In his travels, Bryant "witnessed very few spontaneous discussions or interactions. The couches, plush chairs and tables all seemed to be used for planned meetings or solo work on laptops." He writes: "Rarely … do these different people doing different things actually talk and exchange ideas, but talk and ideas are crucial to the making of community."

Byant sees this as a shame because Starbucks has filled a void left by the decline of public libraries, parks and recreation centers, where "meaningful conversation and debate" used to occur. David Grazian, a sociology professor, agrees: "Given that we seem so reliant on Starbucks .. we should be interested in thinking about what it means when so much of our public sphere is taken over by private enterprise." And, says, Bryant, "People want these conversations, people want to feel connected … I’m pretty sure about that."