40 Days: 022610-D10.0

Namaste. It is 5:16 a.m.

High winds and blowing snow (we got a couple of inches last night) are delaying schools around the area; my school system, Howard, remains open. I don’t expect us to have a delayed opening. The storm intensifies as you head north, and Howard County is west and a little south of Baltimore.

I wanted to talk a little more about what happened Wednesday at Starbucks and the dangers of zero tolerance when it comes to enforcing the rules. Also, at the end of this post, I am including the letter that I wrote and sent to the local papers, chamber of commerce, and community organizations. I’m not sure what responses, if any, I might get. At least I shared my views on the problems with Towson, hopefully opening up some kind of discussion about the lack of community spirit in our town.

The dangers of zero tolerance. Cases all around the country are reaching the media spotlight. Just a few weeks ago, a 12-year-old student in New York wrote on her desk, with a green marker, “I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10.” She violated the school system’s graffiti and school-defacing policy and was handcuffed in front of her peers and taken to the police station.

Cases like this are becoming more common, as if the rules and regulations designed out of fear have given us permission to act autonomously, without reason, and without due consideration of the circumstances surrounding the event.

Certainly, Starbucks and other small businesses with exclusive parking lots want to protect themselves against people who use their few parking spaces to go elsewhere. They are kind enough to offer convenient and free parking to its customers. The question is, what constitutes a customer? I spent 90 minutes in our Starbucks, eating and drinking with a friend, before walking across the street to the University to meet my students for about the same amount of time. When I came back, both my Jeep and my friend’s car were being towed. We had violated the Private Property statement, warning people who park in the Starbucks lot must patronize the small coffee shop or have your vehicle towed.

That’s exactly what we did, though. Starbucks was our destination, our anchor, our home for this meeting. I planned on making yet another purchase before leaving for home as well (of course, after giving them $100 in cash for a kill fee to drop my Jeep, I wasn’t in the spirit to spend any more money).

This is the problem with Zero Tolerance. It does not take into consideration any aspects of the bigger picture. To places like Starbucks, the message it sends is clear: We do not care about our contributions to the greater Towson area, nor do we care about what happens to you should you decide to leave our coffee shop. The concept of a neighborly place to stop while doing other things about town is destroyed when aggressive efforts are taken to watch who arrives and when, track where they go after leaving the store, and then punish them should they decide to do anything but leave the store altogether.

Nice message, Starbucks. Nice.

When I met with the Starbucks manager after my Jeep was lowered back to the ground, I suggested that, if this is a problem where people are just parking and running elsewhere, or if you notice that a car is parked in the lot for an extended period (I hardly think 90 minutes is extended; I spend three times that amount in most coffee shops when I’m writing) and you cannot find the owner, offer a warning the first time. Let them know that you appreciate their business, but you like the spaces to be “refreshed” if you plan on leaving the cafe for an extended experience in Towson before returning.

The manager said she would pass that along to her supervisor. We’ll see.

Here’s my letter that I sent last night to the local media and community associations. As I mentioned above, if all it does is create a discussion about this topic that may lead to some rethinking and relaxing about zero tolerance when it comes to parking in Towson, great. I don’t want to sit here and just complain. I’d like to see some of the leaders in our area address this concern, as I am sure I am not alone in being victimized by this effort to keep Towson a friendly-free place to spend a few hours. (Mr. Joyner is the editor of the Towson Times.)

Mr. Joyner:

A recent trip to Starbucks on York Road, just across the street from Towson University, turned out to be a costly cup of coffee. After spending about 90 minutes in the cafe with a friend, we walked across Bosley Ave. to meet a few of my students on campus. When we returned about 90 minutes later, both of our cars were being towed away. We each paid about $100 to kill the tow and were grateful that we arrived before they left the parking lot. The message we received, however, was far more significant than to buy our coffee elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Starbucks’ exclusivity in parking rights is not uncommon in Towson. Private Property signs are posted in many parking lots along York and Dulaney Valley roads, stating very clearly that parking is limited to its members, and that those using the parking lots for any other purpose than patronizing that specific business will result in your vehicle being towed. Even in the heart of Towson, if you try to park under the garage between Macy’s and Barnes and Noble to shop at the bookstore, Trader Joe’s, or Pier One Imports, your vehicle will be towed, even if you have some mall shopping to do as well.

The message we get is clear: Towson businesses are concerned only with their own specific customers, and only when they are shopping in their respective stores. Any attempts made by the Towson Business Association to make Towson a more neighborly community will be nothing more than good intentions at best. We park our cars in Towson to stay in our community, spending our money in different establishments that we’d like to keep in town long after this recession subsides. It is unfortunate that we’re being forced to go elsewhere to spend our money and hold on to that community feeling that continues to erode, right in our back yard.

Rus VanWestervelt,
Campus Hills

5 thoughts on “40 Days: 022610-D10.0

  1. Okay, my first reaction was: You were not victimized at Starbucks. If you choose to have a relationship with a company whose very name implies that you can only afford to be there if you have a star salary…well God help you.

    After some thought, you were not victimized by the corporation. You were injured by your friends.

    As someone who has experienced terrible customer service three or four times at that particular Starbucks I apologize for not going back telling the manager I won’t come there again…eventhough I pass it regularly. Is it really that hard to get a coffee order right?

    As someone who knows that the reason Starbucks stock fell was because they charge for Wi-Fi. (Panera and most independents don’t charge.) I apologize for not buying one share of stock, writing the CEO and board of directors and making a verbal speech at the annual stockholders meeting.

    Those were all ideas I had, so I apologize for being someone who has ideas and doesn’t always follow through to completion.

    But as someone who loves to remember Towson…I am sorry it is no longer what it should be.

    As someone who remembers Towson when I could climb the stairs of the library on Susquehanna Avenue and enjoy the children’s section – it is now the Health Concern – I apologize.

    As someone who remembers Towson when we would walk the few blocks to watch the Fourth of July parade on front of the Tuxedo shop…then the Oxford shop…now M&T bank, and office building and Seasons Pizza, I apologize.

    As someone who remembers when it was Dad’s day off and Mom was in nurses traning, we walked to Mr. Warren’s so dad could get a haircut….then the barber shop became Lee’s ice cream where my sister and I sneaked off and each ordered the five scoop sundae then had to come home and eat a dinner Mom cooked…not even sure what kind of shop it is this week…but still there next to Hudson Trail…as someone who used to see Mr. Warren standing outside smoking a cigarette after he moved to another shop, I apologize.

    As someone who always wanted to own the house on the corner of York & Burke, live on the top floor and rent the other two floors then found out the asking price was four hundred thousand dollars – FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS, are you kidding me(?)…I apologize.

    As someone who remembers that Pizza Palace really had the best pizza and I happened to be spending the night at my grandmother’s house when it caught on fire and my boyfriend fought the fire and caught a cold…I apologize.

    As someone who remembers that my grandfather helped paint the playground at Burkleigh Square and my grandmother still tended a vegetable garden after he died in 1973…I apologize.

    As someone who has intentionally lived everywhere but Towson in the last twenty years, convinced that all my crazy relatives live in the zip code 21286. (And knowing that the further from zip 21286 someone in my family moves, the healthier they become!) I apologize.

    I apologize for not staying…for not making it a place I wanted to be instead being a place I wanted to remember!



  2. Faith, I don’t think that I have ever read a better commentary on what has happened to the Towson we remember. Thanks for taking the time to share this, making it clearly known to the powers-that-be we are saddened by the lack of care for our once-friendly community.


  3. Completely agree with Faith.
    All my life I wanted stability as an adult(ok as a youth too but that was beyond my control)… I loved Towson….I worked in Towson and lived in Towson for a short time, got married in Towson, etc…I wanted to stay in Towson to raise my family.. to buy one of the houses off Fairmont that I use to dream about etc… it was my Suburban equal to the hustle and bustle of urban downtown Baltimore. It was about the community and the people who lived there for decades, who passed the house down from one generation to the next or moved across the street from their parents, neighbors helping neighbors etc… it was my fairytale come true and exactly where I wanted to be… until I saw change after change and not for the better…. I moved… very rarely have the occasion to come back… but when I do, I dont even recognize it anymore!!! To me, its all about corporate America, gone are the mom and pop places and in with every franchise, when one place fails put in another, forget grass roots and community and people who care.. it just gets crushed with red tape and corporate… whats the Cheryl Crow song… ” Paved paradise and put up a parking lot”? Rus, would be interested is the Starbucks manager really does pass your comment on to the supervisor… to see if it goes anywhere– if you really hear a response from your letters to Towson Times, county council members etc…. Inquiring Minds WANT to know! 🙂


  4. Chel–Haven’t heard a thing yet from my letters sent to the Towson paper, chamber, etc. I’m contacting Starbucks corporate today/tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how they respond…..if they even do!!!!


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