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World's Largest Starbucks Becoming A Tourist Attraction

A rendering of a Starbucks Reserve Roastery planned for Michigan Avenue and Erie Street.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery, 646 North Michigan Ave.

The world’s largest Starbucks store opened on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile just before Thanksgiving, and the location at 646 North Michigan Ave. quickly became a destination for shoppers from around the region.

Attracting coffee drinkers from afar helped keep the five-floor, 35K SF Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a former flagship Crate & Barrel store, busy throughout the Christmas season, with nearly 50% of the customers traveling from more than 30 miles away, according to Placer.ai, a Los Altos, California-based foot traffic analytics platform that analyzes cellphone data. 

That is welcome news for all nearby retailers. The Magnificent Mile was known for generations as the Chicago region’s top shopping district, but the recent plague of retail closures and bankruptcies hit the street hard, leaving it dotted with empty storefronts. In November, Best Buy, which occupied a 35K SF store at 875 North Michigan Ave., became the latest retailer to exit, so the Starbucks opening provided a perfectly timed jolt.

"It created a new story for the street that's not about vacancy, and that's important," Stone Real Estate principal John Vance said. "It's also wonderful because it's very approachable for Michigan Avenue tourists and Chicagoans alike, and it's a new concept that is in touch with the experiential retail trend."

Besides being on a much larger scale, Starbucks Reserve Roasteries are not simply coffee stores. Each showcases the company's coffees, its history and the roasting process, and offers menus with unique local beverages. The Chicago store is the company’s sixth such roastery worldwide, joining similar locations in Shanghai, Tokyo, Seattle, Milan and New York.

When Apple moved its flagship Chicago outlet in 2017 from the same 600 block of North Michigan Avenue south a few blocks to the river, it removed the section's biggest traffic generator, but the new roastery filled the void, Vance said.

"It's just a tremendous transaction that solidified the heart of the avenue," he said.

Vance also appreciates that Starbucks took over what had become an iconic piece of Michigan Avenue architecture, and preserved it for future generations.

"The exterior is important to many in Chicago because Crate & Barrel is a local retailer that did very well, and Starbucks gave it a very respectful touch," he said.  

Starbucks opened the location on Nov. 15, and Placer.ai established a baseline average of its foot traffic through Dec. 31. The Saturday after Thanksgiving drew the largest crowd, when visits rose more than 180% above the baseline.

“The holiday period was effective for the roastery, as the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all brought visits that consistently remained over the baseline average,” according to Placer.ai.

Retailers haven’t given up on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Canada-based outdoor apparel retailer Roots launched an 11K SF flagship in May on two floors at 605 North Michigan Ave., the first new store to do so on this section of Michigan Avenue since 2018. Whether the example of Starbucks encourages others to do likewise isn't yet known, Vance said.

"It has definitely driven foot traffic, but will it drive new leasing? It's a little too early to tell."