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La Porte coffee shops brace for potential competition from Starbucks

February 11, 2017 GMT

La PORTE — Joe Whicker, the owner of character-rich Temple News Agency, a downtown gourmet coffee shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain and nearly 100 years of history, says he has no fear of competition from Starbucks.

“Oh, it’s not a bad place,” he says of the ubiquitous coffee purveyor that features a twin-tailed mermaid on its logo. He pauses briefly. “I’ve been to their stores before. I go there when I’m out of town and I can’t find a good cup of coffee.”

Of course, the good-natured ribbing is all conjecture so far.

Starbucks has expressed an interest in building a coffee shop in La Porte at the fledgling NewPorte Landing on Pine Lake Avenue. The coffeehouse chain went before the city’s site review committee a couple of weeks ago with preliminary plans and asking what steps it might need to take if it wanted to open a retail store. That was reported this week to the La Porte City Council.

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City Councilman Roger Galloway said he welcomes the development but doesn’t want to get caught up in any debate over whether La Porte needs a Starbucks. He said city officials did not recruit the business.

“I don’t care if there’s another coffee place in town or not,” Galloway said. “If they think they can make a go of it, that’s great. I’m all in favor of it.”

Starbucks had inquired two years ago about converting the former fire station at Pine Lake Avenue and Truesdale Avenue, but those plans eventually went cold and the tiny fire station eventually was demolished.

The property under consideration this time is at the Pine Lake Avenue entrance to NewPorte Landing, according to city engineers, on the southeast side of an existing building that houses a real estate office and a nail grooming shop. On the opposite side of those existing buildings is a Dunkin’ Donuts, the first business to set up shop on the new development, a former industrial property that has been overhauled for retail use. Kroger announced in October that it also plans to relocate and expand on the 50-acre site, not far from its existing location.

Starbucks already has stores in South Bend, Michigan City and Valparaiso. Any development in La Porte would require a permit and other approvals.

Back at Temple News Agency, customer loyalty is seen as a bulwark against whatever corporate giant may land the other side of the tracks.

"It’s all about relationships," owner Whicker said. "We’re always down for more competition. We’re not afraid of it. You just have to be better than everybody else."

Luke Stigler, a longtime customer, said the atmosphere in Starbucks is considerably different than at Temple News Agency, and there may well be plenty of room in town for another coffee supplier. Showing off the names generations from the past have carved into the soft brick, Stigler is confident the tradition at Temple will live on.

"You can’t compete with this," he said.