Coffee shop owners around Seattle’s Seattle Coffee District started charging customers a fee for their coffee when it arrived, in an effort to compete with chains like Starbucks.
But Seattle’s business leaders and community leaders say the move to charge coffee users for coffee started with the idea that it would drive up prices for the coffee that consumers bought, and in turn drive down the cost of the product.
“It started as a way to get more people into coffee, because they wanted to go buy coffee, but it didn’t really work out that way,” said Dan Lefkowitz, president of Seattle-based Coffee Shop Alliance.
“The cost of coffee in Seattle has been going up, and so it’s not that they’re going to stop buying coffee because the cost is going up.
It’s just that they want to spend more money to go to a place where the coffee is good.”
Lefksowitz says that the Seattle Coffee Alliance is now trying to figure out what would happen if Seattle residents were forced to pay a fee to buy coffee.
“If Seattle becomes more expensive, the coffee stores have to charge a fee,” Lefskowitz said.
“That’s going to be a real drag on the economy, which will hurt Seattle’s tourism industry.”
In Seattle, businesses have been experimenting with the concept of charging customers for coffee for decades.
In Seattle’s Chinatown neighborhood, a coffee shop that sells lattes called Loomis, which come in both espresso and regular, has been offering customers a $5 fee for a daily latte for nearly five years.
Loomi co-owner Jason Wong says he is still trying to decide how much money to charge customers to buy his coffee, and whether the $5 charge will cover the cost to open his shop.
“We don’t think it’s a good idea, because we don’t want to charge more than what the cost for coffee is,” Wong said.
In 2012, Seattle’s mayor signed a bill into law that prohibits Seattle from taxing coffee as a form of local income tax.
A new law passed in 2014 requires that businesses with more than 30 employees have a $1,000 coffee shop fee.
But Wong says that is still too much for Loomys Coffee Shop, which has about 15 employees and only three customers.
“Our business is about getting people into the coffee shop, and that’s what we do best,” Wong added.
“And if we charge more for coffee than that, then we’re going down the drain.”
But Loomises Coffee Shop owner Jason Wong has had a difficult time finding the money to pay the $1.5 coffee shop bill.
He said that a recent state survey showed that only about 5 percent of Seattle residents had ever purchased coffee.
He hopes that the city’s new law will help lure people to Loomisa, but he is skeptical that the new coffee shop fees will be enough to help keep his business afloat.
“I don’t know what we’re really going to do,” Wong told Newsweek.
“Seattle has the cheapest coffee in the nation, so maybe we can go get some of the coffee from the rest of the country and make some money.”