BROOKSVILLE — There soon will be one less place for a fancy cup of joe in Hernando County.
Starbucks in the Publix Plaza at Cortez Boulevard and U.S. 41 will be closing in May, less than two years after it opened in June 2007. Workers began quietly telling their regular customers earlier this week.
It won't be the first retail outlet to close its doors during the economic downturn, and county officials fear it might not be the last. But customers said the departure of Starbucks brought a particular sting for those who had enjoyed a shot of big-city glamor in a small town.
Regulars Patrick Sherman and his grandmother, Paulette Kelly, were disappointed Wednesday to hear of the impending closing.
Kelly said she would miss the outdoor cafe, which reminded her of great cafes in Europe. She and Sherman visit the outlet several times a week. Starbucks is one of the few places where she can enjoy a cigarette with her drink, she said.
"I'm not going to drive 30 minutes to get a cup of hot chocolate," Sherman said. "Tell them to close the one in Spring Hill."
Starbucks officials did not respond to several requests for an interview and did not explain why the Brooksville outlet had been chosen for closure. There has been no indication that the Spring Hill store, on Cortez near Mariner Boulevard, will be closed.
"We used several criteria to identify stores for closure that included stores that were not profitable at the store level and that the company projected would not provide acceptable returns in the foreseeable future," the company said in a prepared statement.
The coffee giant closed nearly 600 stores last year, including several in the Tampa Bay area. The company recently announced the closing of an additional 300 stores, 200 of them in the United States. Starbucks also plans to lay off nearly 7,000 employees.
Aline Bryant's daughter has worked at Starbucks for a year and a half.
"It was her first job," she said. "She's really upset. She made a lot of close friends, including customers."
Starbucks has nearly 17,000 outlets, more than 5,000 of which are outside the country, according to the Bloomberg news service. While the company's presence is shrinking in the Tampa Bay region, it continues to grow elsewhere.
For 2009, Starbucks has predicted its international growth will outpace U.S. growth by 20 percent.