Starbucks expands its regional presence 2 more stores opening in Baltimore area


First, it established a beachhead. Now, it's moving inland.

The invasion of Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Co. is continuing. The nation's largest coffee company confirmed yesterday plans to open two more stores in the Baltimore area -- on Groffs Mill Drive in Owings Mills Nov. 18 and on York Road in Timonium next month -- giving the retailer four local shops.

That's not all. Four to six additional Starbucks are planned for Baltimore, according to a source in the financial community.

The company would not confirm any further expansion plans, but spokeswoman Heather J. Kolasch said, "Starbucks would like to grow in the Baltimore area definitely, and [it] will according to how Baltimoreans respond." Among the potential sites, she said, is downtown Baltimore.

Starbucks' deployment has been rapid. The gourmet coffee chain opened its first store here July 8 in York Road Plaza south of Towson, and followed up with a second store Aug. 5 on Reisterstown Road at the Festival at Woodholme.

The retailer's green-and-white colors also are established at a kiosk at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at a coffee bar in the lounge of the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel.

Baltimore is just one of the staging grounds of one of the country's fastest-growing chains, which investment firm Alex. Brown Inc. of Baltimore took public three years ago.

For the 52 weeks that ended Oct. 1, Starbucks opened 253 stores, entering markets in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas, Texas; Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; Cincinnati and Philadelphia, giving the retailer about 690 shops nationwide.

Another 275 stores are projected for fiscal 1996. And the first Starbucks store outside the United States will open in Tokyo in the spring.

Yesterday, Starbucks signaled even broader growth, announcing a joint venture with Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc. to distribute its premium coffee ice cream to grocery stores nationwide in the spring. Dreyer's is based in Oakland, Calif., and markets its ice cream in Western, Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states.

"Nobody else out there in the business is anywhere near Starbucks' size," said Gary A. Aster, a Seattle analyst with Minneapolis-based Dain Bosworth Inc.

"To compete with Starbucks now would be like a small hamburger joint competing against McDonald's back when it was in the same stage of growth," Mr. Aster said.

Although Starbucks poses a threat to smaller coffee houses -- the Sutton Place Gourmets and Donnas of the world -- the giant retailer has yet to significantly push out the smaller players, Mr. Aster said, even though it offers more than 30 kinds of coffees.

Perhaps a greater concern is whether the connoisseur coffee-craze is just a passing fancy.

"I really wonder," Mr. Aster said, "how long people will pay $2.50- $3.50 for a cup of coffee."

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