Featured Starbucks: Columbia Center, Store #101

ColumbiaCenter from 4thIt’s time for a Starbucks history lesson…a particular store worth talking about because of its very unique story.  Every Starbucks store has its history, fans, and tall tales. But the Columbia Center Starbucks, located at 4th and Cherry in downtown Seattle, has one of the longest histories of any Starbucks.  The store dates back to the 1980s, a time when there were a handful of Starbucks.  It was Howard Schultz’s first store, and originally called “Il Giornale” the name of his espresso bar chain before he purchased Starbucks.  The modern Starbucks was born when Howard Schultz merged his existing Il Giornale business into the coffee company he purchased, called Starbucks (and that’s a very abbreviated version of the story).

This store was the earliest Starbucks hub.  Howard Schultz purchased Starbucks on August 15, 1987, and in the book Pour Your Heart Into It he describes going to Il Giornale on that eventful day (now Starbucks store 101, and the store number begins with a “1” because it started as an Il Giornale.)…

“It was a sunny Friday afternoon in August that greeted me when I walked out of the lawyers’ offices after closing the deal to acquire Starbucks…

I strode across the street to Columbia Center, to that first Il Giornale store.  At 2 p.m. on a summer afternoon, there was only one other customer, a woman standing at the window, deep in thought.  I greeted the baristas, who had no idea  of the transaction we had just completed.  They made me a doppio macchiato…and a cappuccino for Scott.  We sat on barstools near the window.”

Chapter 7, Pour Your Heart Into It

(By the way, as I write this, there are no bar stools at Starbucks store 101 anymore).

The Columbia Center Starbucks opened as Howard Schultz’s first Il Giornale on April 8, 1986.  In 1986, if you had walked into this Il Giornale coffeehouse, here’s what you would have experienced:

“In that first store, we were determined to re-create a true Italian-style coffee bar.  Our primary mission was to be authentic.  We didn’t want anything to dilute the integrity of the espresso and the Italian coffee bar experience in Seattle.  For music, we played only Italian opera. The baristas wore white shirts and bow ties.  All service was stand-up, with no seating.  We hung national and international newspapers on roads on the wall.  The menu was covered with Italian words.  Even the decor was Italian.”

Chapter 6, Pour Your Heart Into It

In the year 2010, the customer based hasn’t changed one bit for this store (stand up seating makes some sense for this intensely busy store).  From Pour Your Heart Into It, we learn that “[o]ur customers, most of whom worked in the busy downtown office buildings nearby, were always in a hurry.”  This is absolutely still true. The store clientele is almost entirely very hurried business professionals, some lawyers, some judges, county and city employees.  You could sit in the store for a week and never see  a minor. One time I saw a court bailiff (whom I recognized) using a courtfile cart to make a “Starbucks run” for all the court-staff in her courtroom at Seattle Municipal Court!

So why am I writing this short blog post about the Columbia Center? 

First, in some ways, I get the sense nothing has changed. It’s still – by design of the location – a central hub of activity for that area of downtown. It is literally close to the King County Court House, Seattle Municipal Court, King County Administration Building, City Hall, and other governmental buildings.  Starbucks where you’re most likely to run into an elected Seattle official? Columbia Center Starbucks. 

Secondly, the unique story behind this store is worth telling.  Really, no other Starbucks has this unique legacy.  It’s as important to the development of Starbucks as the story of the original Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place.

Third, by chance, this is a regular Starbucks for me because it is both a Clover location as well as being centrally located to Seattle’s courts.  These days, you’re much more likely to find “Starbucks Melody” at the Columbia Center Starbucks than the big H in deliberations over whether paper cups are needed to run a coffee business…

“We even debated whether we should have paper cups for the to-go business, which we knew would constitute a large part of our revenues.  Although espresso tastes better in ceramic cups, we didn’t really have a choice:  If we didn’t offer coffee to go, business would have been minimal.”

Chapter 6, Pour Your Heart Into It

Recently, a Starbucks partner who has been with Starbucks about 14 years told me that she remembered the Columbia Center store being the main training store in the mid to late 1990s.  In that era, you learned about coffee and espresso first in a training setting before being given on-the-job training.  Modernly, this Starbucks has a great team of baristas who work together to deliver quick drinks with a smile.  The current store manager is “Hallie”.  Several coffee masters will help you pick out some great coffee. They are a fantastic team.

Just to point out what kind of a great team this store has, here is a mystarbucksidea.com thread with props for the store (I have no idea who “SeattleBuber” is who started the thread):

For a previous blog entry mentioning the Columbia Center, click here.  That blog entry focused on an older version of the Siren logo.

And for a current look at the inside of the Columbia Center (inside photos taken 12-31-2009 – Note, there is no Christmas Blend in the store because this Starbucks sold through ALL their Christmas Blend in flavorlock bags):

And for a few pictures, taken on a beautiful October day 2009:


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  • Mike Crimmins

    I really wish that I worked close to a Starbucks with a clover.

    I like learning the history about different locations of coffee shops in general. It seems like the best ones often have good stories.

  • camspi

    Howard’s book is full of good stories like that! I think I should reread it sometime soon.

    Wonder if he’ll ever write a sequel:
    “We decided to introduce the Clover coffee brewer…. Pike Place Roast was a decision we considered for months… A blog, Starbucks Melody, started keeping track of interesting topics which I read regularly.”

  • smoovebcoffee

    Great post. In addition to the Clover, I really enjoy this store because it has the full array of merch… which usually means there’s a couple nuggets from last-season that are on deep discount too.

    This store embodies the internal conflict that a lot of customers have with their favorite beverages. On the one hand, customers want to feel like their beverage was made carefully, craftfully, with only them in mind (see the Clover bar)– on the other hand, they might be in the mood to have their beverage in a split second (witness the crowd around the W-bar looking from their watches, to the bar, and then back to their watches).

    This store and the hard working partners there must constantly walk a very delicate balance to please both types of customers depending on their mood (or time of day).

  • Scooter McGoo

    As always I enjoyed Ur “Blast from the Past” history lesson about the company. I never read Howard’s book and won’t be anytime soon. It must be strange having seen the “progression” of the brand over the coarse of time since the 80’s and early 90’s (I went to my first SBUX @ Pike Place in 1993).That’s what seems to be happening at 15th Ave & Roy Street, a return to what “worked” in the beginning B4 the “Next Big Thing” concept took over. Coffee was the core and quality was key, 20+ yrs have not been so kind to the “I’ll never close a store” mentality. I bet Ur BF loves the shwag all around the house means at least he knows what not to get U as gifts. LOL U keep on writing and we’ll keep on reading. BTW Congrats on the CNN interview piece, Ur not just for locals anymore, U have gone international. Cheers

  • Scooter McGoo

    BTW I just bought 3 pounds of Xmas blend yesterday If U need some for a “stash” let me know I can accommodate.

  • elly

    so, this is one of what i consider to be ‘my’ starbucks. i know, i can’t really say that, as i do not own it, but let me explain.

    ‘my’ starbucks, as i am sure other customers will agree, are the starbucks stores we get to know and love because we are (or were at some point) regulars there. mine consist of tcc (this one), the one at union station, the one at broadway and republican, and 15th.

    i love learning about the history of my starbucks stores (and ones that are not mine too!), because this makes that personal story even more complete and satisfying!

    so, again, thank you for filling in the gaps in my store’s history for me, and making all that much more interesting to go there :)

  • Alicia

    Ahh, I love the interiors of Starbucks – so cozy! I love the idea of an authentic Italian-style coffee bar even more though! Shame it changed as it did. I love the subtle unique touches that each store seems to add… whether they fully acknowledge it or not.

    I really want to get my hand on this book, “Pour Your Heart Into It” – sounds absolutely fascinating!

  • Sara

    Interesting read, thanks. That store looks nice and uncluttered. I remember when I went into my first Starbucks, I think in the mid-90’s, in Southern California, I loved the strong smell of the coffee beans, I miss that aroma! My first and favorite drink for quite a while was the Mocha Valencia, loved the chocolate and orange flavors. I still don’t know why they discontinued it, I thought it was so good.

  • Brendan206

    I like that store a lot! I went there a few times when I was serving jury duty in the summer of 2009. I like the way it looks from 4th Ave (or the corner, 4th & Cherry) with that nice brick facade. I think it’s pretty neat that it was all stand-up service originally.

    There is another Starbucks on the 40th floor of Columbia Center (as I’m sure you know). Do you happen to know if that one is open to the public, or just for the workers in the tower? I bet that store has the best views of any Starbucks!

  • Lynse Leanne

    I think when I get to Vancouver we are going to have to drive 3 hours to Seattle and check out the Starbucks up there. In your opinion what are the 5 stores I MUST go to?

  • Melody

    Hi Lynse! Good luck again on your relocation to Washington! That’s a big move, moving across country nearly!

    Great question: Here are the 5 stores I recommend:

    (1) 1912 Pike Place Starbucks (Store #301) – I recommend it because it’s the first store, where it all began…

    (2) 1st & Pike Starbucks, a few blocks away from 1912 Pike Place. This is NOT the first store, but many people get confused and think it is.

    First and Pike is a large spacious beautiful store design with a very friendly group of store partners! It is also a “Clover” store (you can find several old blog entries on the Clover at this site).

    There is a blog entry here about First and Pike:

    (3) 328 15th Avenue East – The “Mercantile” Store (not branded as a Starbucks). You can go back and read my blog on a cupping at 15th or that ‘there are 2 mercantile Starbucks’.

    This store does not have a green Siren, does not have a blender, does not have Venti sizes, and it is a true coffeehouse experience. You really should get to a cupping!

    You cannot *really* learn about coffee without doing a cupping. This store offers a cupping every day at 10 am.

    (4) Columbia Center – 40th Floor. This blog entry on the featured Starbucks focuses on the old first floor Starbucks, but the Columbia Center has TWO Starbucks in it. There is a 2nd Starbucks on the 40th floor.

    It’s open to the public. The store is a Monday through Friday, and I think it closes at like 5 pm.

    The beautiful thing is the sweeping views from this Starbucks since it is on the 40th floor in a downtown Seattle building.

    (5) Roy Street Coffee and Tea – This is the other “mercantile” Starbucks, like 328 – 15th Avenue East. Again, like the other one, there is no flavor locks bags, coffee is scooped fresh, and usually has been roasted within the past 2 weeks at the Kent Roasting Plant. You can get a handcrafted beverage on a machine with espresso handtamped for you or a handcrafted coffee through PourOver, Clover, or French Press.


    If you don’t have much time, the first 3 listed are must do Starbucks so that you experience the real variety that Seattle uniquely has to offer.

  • Carolyn Hamilton-Proctor

    On my way there right now for a first meeting, and also first visit to this Starbucks location. I always love little background stories like this. Only in downtown Seattle would you find a fabulous place like Columbia Center just 2 blocks from the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Emergency homeless shelter…food–excuse me, coffee?– for thought.

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