Living in the Northwest, we’re far enough removed from the majority of the populace to sit back and notice the differences in our lifestyle. And from our little corner of the world, I often wonder what makes Seattle such a great place to live and work.
The answer may seem obvious to any Seattleite: It’s the ubiquitous coffee shop.
That said, I don’t think it’s actually the coffee, as much as the shop.
Having spent the last 20 years starting startups in and around downtown, two key small differences make this city’s business culture great.
First, we have a compact, walkable downtown with affordable commercial rents. That allows our startups to set up shop in the core of the city; not out in the ring-road interstates (others can explain to me why their startups are over on the Eastside, in the midst of the sprawl).
Second, we have coffee shops on nearly every corner (and not uncommonly, two).
When combined, these two facts mean that there exists a place to have a meeting without the formality of one person visiting the other’s office. It means that often it’s possible to literally and physically meet someone halfway, in a more casual setting than an office.
Add WiFi, notebooks, smartphones, and iPads, and the coffee shops fill up with people squeezing in some work in-between meetings as well. Truly, this is the “Third Place” vision popularized by Starbucks twenty years ago.
These thoughts came to me last week, having bumped into three people I knew at Cherry Street Coffee, and another at the Tully’s on Harbor Steps, and then three more at Uptown Coffee in South Lake Union a few days later. All of these chance encounters made me wonder whether this coffee shop culture is indeed unique to Seattle.
As I hate to leave a measurable question unanswered, I sought some numbers.
According to an NPD Group study, Seattle/Tacoma ranked as the #1 coffee city with 1,640 coffee shops. That’s about 35 stores per 100,000 residents.
This is 261 more shops than San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose combined; a metropolitan area with a million more people than Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma.
This is also nearly twice the number of shops in Portland and 8.2 times more than Austin, Texas. In terms of density, it’s four times higher than New York City.
So, both anecdotally and quantitatively, Seattle has a penchant for coffee and coffee shops.
And beyond the double-tall, half-caff mocha vanilla lattes, grande caramel macchiatos and venti multi-syllabic orders no whip, it’s the shops that brew this city’s special blend.