by Ronnie Charrier
In most cities in the U.S., having a Starbucks open would be a welcome sight. But in the middle of one of the countries’ most prized national parks, it’s stirred up quite the controversy.
“Stop Starbucks in Yosemite” reads the petition that Freddy Brewster, a former Yosemite trail guide, started earlier this year. “I understand that they are trying to improve the infrastructure and make it better than it used to be,” Freddy told the Guardian. “But it is representative of what our culture is becoming. The government is increasingly dependent on major corporations. Time and time again.”
And he’s not alone, with over 25,000 people signing the petition as well to voice their opinion that corporate consumerism and one of America’s oldest and most venerable national parks do not make a good pair. The online protesters say that they are concerned that with the opening of a Starbucks as part of a food court attached to Yosemite Lodge, that it will invite more restaurants and retailers to do the same.
The Park Service says it is merely responding to the requests of their visitors to have a variety of food and drink options. “It’s an integral part of the visitor experience, to have food and drink that is accessible, of good quality and at a reasonable price,” said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. “We want to make sure the visitors have that.”
To this end, the Park Service signed a contract in 2016 with Philadelphia-based Aramark for the hotel and food concessions inside of Yosemite National Park. The businesses run by Aramark brought in roughly $120 million in revenue that year alone, and some advocates have suggested that the struggling agency, with a $12 billion backlog of capital projects, could make more if it expanded concessions.
An Aramark spokesman, David Freireich, said that the anti-Starbucks petitioners have mischaracterized plans for the Yosemite cafe, adding that the coffee outlet will occupy existing space in a food service building where Peet’s Coffee previously had been offered.
Park Service officials have also made it clear that as part of their 15-year contract with Aramark, they do not have the power to overrule Starbucks or other vendors, as long as they are providing goods and services outlined in the contract.
This new Starbucks inside of Yosemite could very well signal what’s to come for national parks around the country.
There was a record-breaking 331 million people that visited National Parks around the country in 2016, but despite their growing popularity, there is a massive maintenance backlog, resulting in issues including closed trails and collapsing cabins.
Hospitality services are one way that the parks could begin to recoup some of the money needed to continue to maintain the parks. The Park Service says that visitor spending was also up 30% in 2016 and that food and beverages account for close to a third of the dollars spent.
Freddy Brewster said that he is disturbed that the public did not get more notice, and the opportunity to voice their concern about the encroachment of the $87 billion company into the 128-year-old home of El Capitan and Half Dome.
“It seems the park service is putting profits over conservation,” said Brewster.