What’s Actually Going On With Starbucks And Yosemite?


Over the past two weeks, there’s been a pretty loud kerfuffle over the proposed addition of a Starbucks to Yosemite National Park. The Fresno Bee — which wins the prize for most adorable newspaper name ever — reported on January 4th that Starbucks won the contract to be installed in the food court that’s currently being remodeled in the park. Online activists took umbrage with an international brand like Starbucks coming into the park and started a petition to stop it.

The petition reads, “multinational corporations have no place in our National Parks. The opening of a Starbucks in Yosemite Valley opens the door to further undue development. The Park will lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city.”

Before we go on, let’s get some facts straight. What’s actually happening is that Aramark — a massive international, multi-billion dollar hospitality corporation — won a 15-year contract back in June of 2015 to revamp the aging food and lodging infrastructure of our National Parks and usher in a more sustainable 21st century.

That contract with the National Park Service included revamping a pre-existing food court in Yosemite to modernize it and bring more efficiency to the place. As part of that remodel, Aramark subcontracted Starbucks to take over the coffee shop element of the food court, replacing the Peet’s Coffee that many US parks currently have.

Reading through the petition and the comments and there’s no mention of Aramark. The comments — or “reasons for signing” — on the petition are clear. They don’t want a multi-national corporation like Starbucks anywhere near our national parks.

Sadly, this is another example of headline reactionism or missing the forest for the trees. The truth is, the marriage between billion-dollar corporations and the national parks is a ship that sailed a long, long time ago (the law was changed in 1998 to allow open bidding on contracts in parks). That’s before we even get to the point that Starbucks is coming in at the behest of Aramark, a multi-national corp that seems to be off the petitioner’s radars entirely.

There’s also the cold hard fact that the parks need these partnerships for revenue. In 2013, Aramark’s lodging and food installations across eight parks brought in $110 million, not to mention all the people they employ to keep the lodges and restaurants running.

Per the summer 2015 announcement about what the Aramark contract means for Yosemite specifically, the National Park service had this to say:

Aramark will provide a variety of services to the public, including continuing to operate the Yosemite Valley shuttle system free of charge to all visitors. Additionally, under the new contract, concession operations will achieve several operational improvements including reducing vehicle traffic in Yosemite Valley, increasing water conservation, reducing electricity and fuel usage, and enhancing food and beverage operations for visitors.

That sounds like a move in the right direction, right?

All of that being said, one part of the petition and a couple of the comments seemed less perturbed at Starbucks coming and more peeved that the park service isn’t supporting local businesses. “If the Park is to bring in another outside contractor, why is it not fulfilling its commitment to Gateway Communities? Let’s consider local establishments” the petition pleads.

One commenter seemed to agree.

That’s a far fairer gripe. There could be more consideration given to small, local businesses. Unfortunately, big corporations see big corporations as the easiest and most efficient to work with because those outfits are used to working at scale. How much would it cost a mom-and-pop in central California to lawyer up enough to even start talking about being part of that world?

Is Starbucks being installed in a food court where there’s already a chain coffee shop really the end of our national parks being untouched, pristine meccas? Probably not. It’s replacing another chain. It’s just being updated for efficiency across the board.

If you do have a beef with huge, billion-dollar corporations updating our parks, running lodging and food, employing thousands, and bringing in extra revenue to keep the parks running, then take it up with the Department of Interior or Aramark.

They’re the players here, not Starbucks. However, if all you want is some good, local coffee then The Cool Bean in Oakhurst is absolutely fantastic and deserves your patronage. Try the “Mudslide” or the “Snickers!”