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Starbucks Recasts Its Stores, With Help From Oprah

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Here in the city where I live, a coffee shop that wants to compete with Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) is a lot more than a coffee shop.

It's a de facto community center.

It's a conference room for home-based businesses to meet clients. It's a tea shop for harried mothers in the afternoon. It's a wine bar for couples that can't afford a whole night out. It's a music venue. It changes its role with the time of day and the needs of the people it serves.

Starbucks now wants to copy this model at thousands of its stores across the U.S. suburban landscape. That means getting thousands of beer-and-wine licenses. It means rolling out much larger and wider menus. And it means the Starbucks you drop into during the evening will be very different from the one where you grabbed your cappuccino that morning.

The idea is to get in-store traffic throughout the day, whenever and however people want to stop and relax. Suburban moms might get together in the afternoon over some Oprah-branded chai tea, maybe bringing little kids in strollers with them. Couples might meet for a glass of wine and a bite to eat after work.

The risk is these stores can get in the way of one another, especially in suburban and exurban locations where Starbucks does most of its business. Zoning laws treat doughnut shops and wine bars very differently.

So do community leaders, and church leaders. If you saw Pastor Dan walk into a Starbucks one night a year ago, you knew he was probably working on Sunday's sermon. If you see him go in next year, you may wonder whether he's having an affair.

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