paris

Planned Starbucks in artsy Parisian neighborhood has some jittery

Jan. 15, 2013 at 4:06 PM ET

Image: Tourists near Sacre Coeuer Basilica in Paris
Benoit Tessier / Reuters file
Tourists enjoy the good weather in Place du Tertre in the former village of Montmartre near the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, in May 2009.

A new café set to open in one of Paris’ biggest tourist draws is quickening pulses faster than a double espresso.

A Starbucks is coming to the Place du Tertre in the bohemian Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, where Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway once roamed the hilly streets.

Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Riley confirmed the store will debut in April.

“We are excited to open in such a lively and vibrant area of Paris,” she told NBC News.

While there are more than 50 Starbucks locations in the French capital, this newest addition has struck a nerve with some locals and expatriates who say they don’t want the corporate world to invade this historic part of the City of Light, famous for its romantic bistros and persistent artists.

The group Paris Fierté – whose name translates to “Paris Pride” and which bills itself as a cultural association that promotes Parisian identity – has been vocal in its opposition to the new café, holding a protest rally and distributing leaflets in an effort to stop the opening.

There’s even an online petition that urges people to say “Non merci!” to a Starbucks in Montmartre. More than 800 people have signed it so far.

Starbucks headquarters wasn’t aware of the protest, but the company is committed to designing locally relevant stores, Riley said. That means Starbucks will respect the original features of the historic building and surrounding area, and “pay tribute to the beauty of the district’s architecture,” she added.

But Mary Kay Bosshart, an American who lives in the French capital and writes the “Out and About in Paris” blog, wasn’t sure how the new café would fit in.

“I'm still trying to imagine Hemingway ordering a Frappuccino grande and a muffin before settling down with his laptop to take advantage of Starbuck's free wifi,” she wrote.

She made it a point to visit the Place du Tertre to find out what locals and visitors thought about Starbucks coming to the area and was surprised by the reactions. A group of Americans told her the store would ruin the essence of the landmark, but some of the local artists said they were relieved the space was sold to an international company with a good reputation.

“It's more the tourists and the expats who want to protect the soul of Montmartre, which is rather ironic because Parisians usually say that they have no desire to go to Montmartre because they think that it's nothing more than a tourist trap,” Bosshart told NBC News in an email.

You won’t find any chain stores in the area now, but Starbucks will likely be a success, said Murielle Blanchard, a Salt Lake City travel agent who specializes in France. Clients often tell her that they want to experience the local flavor when they’re abroad, but they always go back to what they know best, she has found.

“They know what to expect. They are familiar with the way it’s presented, so I’m sure for tourists it would be good,” Blanchard said. “For Parisians, it’s just sad.”

This isn’t the first time a Starbucks location has sparked controversy. A store in the Forbidden City in Beijing prompted a Chinese journalist to write that it undermined the landmark’s solemnity and “trampled over Chinese culture."

Following pressure from the government, Starbucks closed the location in 2007. Riley pointed out that Beijing and Paris are two very different markets with distinct sensitivities, both of which Starbucks appreciates.

Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet, remembers buying a Green Tea Frappucino at the Forbidden City store on a hot day and having mixed feelings about it afterward. He said going to a Starbucks in a historic part of Paris isn't as strange as lining up at one inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but he wasn’t surprised the new location was stirring strong emotions.

“It’s just important to understand that some people in that community find it upsetting to have a global corporation that’s popping into a place that’s always been linked to a more artistic side,” Reid said, adding that time will tell whether the store is a success.

As a traveler, he finds it more interesting to discover something new.

“You are going to have a more unique Parisian experience by maybe not going to the same café you go to when you’re at home,” he said.

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