Starbucks: Urban Renewer, Urban Opportunist

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Over the holiday break, I visited My Hometown of Niagara Falls, New York.

That track -- one of seven top 10 singles from Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band's Born in the U.S.A. album -- embodies parts of the place quite well. But Downbound Train, one of the better, relatively unknown songs on that record, does an as good, if not better job articulating the attitude of this and other broken and beaten down places always, seemingly, on the cusp of revival:

Now I work down at the carwash/Where all it ever does is rain/Don't you feel like you're a rider on a downbound train

So there's that side of Niagara Falls, New York. The one Bloomberg BusinessWeek did an excellent (and very long) piece on back in December 2010.

Three-plus years later and not much has changed. Springsteen can still provide the soundtrack for Niagara Falls. And BusinessWeek's unfortunate, but wholly accurate description still applies. A straightforward description with the attendant source of bewilderment that has dogged residents and other observers for several lost decades ...

... the decrepit city in western New York State ... in spite of its proximity to an attraction that draws at least 8 million tourists each year ...

Full disclosure: I was born in and lived in that "decrepit city" along the Canadian border for 19 years. Come to think of it, when I turn 39 this summer I will have officially spent more years living away from Niagara Falls than I spent living in it. And, while I would be lying if I said I miss the place, I still want to see it recover.

There's a fair bit of revitalization going on these days, including a hopeful program CNBC reported on in 2012 where the city will cover student loan payments for college graduates who agree to live in targeted neighborhoods. It's this type of initiative -- and others that are creative, new and championed by a fresh(er) generation of young people in Niagara Falls -- that gives me hope my hometown will recover (or something "like" recover).

But, no surprise, many residents react to any talk of a resurgence with cynicism. I can't blame them. It's tough to be upbeat when the temperature plummets through the teens into the single digits, the wind blows and the snow falls. Much of the time, Niagara Falls just doesn't feel like a very positive place. Remove corner bars, pizza joints and droves of Canadians shoppers from the equation and you have a city with very little that resembles urban activity, unless, of course, you count crime and poverty.

The air of negativity that hangs over Niagara Falls probably explains both the reason why some residents think the soon-to-open standalone Starbucks (SBUX) can't succeed here (My mother's reaction: "Nobody's paying $4 for a coffee here.") and why it will be, relatively speaking, as lucractive a goldmine as any other Starbucks anywhere else in the world.

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