Studio City Starbucks removes seating due to 'safety concerns'

FILE - The Starbucks logo is displayed in the window of a downtown Pittsburgh Starbucks on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Workers at more than 100 U.S. Starbucks stores are scheduled to go on strike Thursday, Nov. 17, the same day the company plans its annual giveaway of reusable holiday cups. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
A Starbucks in Studio City is removing all of its customer seating, citing "safety concerns" for customers and employees. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

A Starbucks in Studio City will serve only to-go orders after management removed its guest seating last month out of "safety concerns" for customers and employees.

It's unclear if a specific incident prompted the change or when the coffee shop in the 10900 block of Ventura Boulevard removed its seating, but complaints posted on social media over the decision date back to late April. The move comes nearly a year after the popular coffee chain closed six stores in the Los Angeles area due to "challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate."

A sign posted at the entrance of the Studio City store said "due to safety concerns for our customers and partners, we have removed seating temporarily at this location," according to KTTV-TV News.

A Starbucks spokesperson said Thursday that the sign has been removed but declined to answer questions about when the seating might return or if other stores in the region might take similar action.

"We use various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers, and have a variety of store formats in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, including drive-through, pickup and cafe," the spokesperson said.

In a statement, the Seattle-based coffee giant said it prides itself on "creating a safe, warm, and welcoming Third Place environment," meaning a place that is separate from a person's work and home. But the statement said store managers are "empowered to use the many resources at their disposal to modify store operations and create the best experience for our communities."

"Our first priority is to make sure our partners are safe at work," the statement said.

Several stores in the San Francisco Bay Area have also seen their furniture disappear in the last year, including a store in the Castro neighborhood, according to reports on the online publication Hoodline. The approach forced customers to grab-and-go with their coffee, much like the Studio City Starbucks.

While the company has not announced plans to close the Studio City location, it previously shut stores over safety concerns.

When it closed the six L.A. stores and 10 others across the nation last year, Starbucks cited “a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate,” according to a Starbucks spokesperson. The company cited mental health issues, drug use and chronic homelessness as contributing factors to their decision.

L.A. City Councilmember Nithya Raman, who represents the district where the Studio City outlet is located, said her office has heard from numerous business operators who say that mental health and homelessness are the biggest issues they're facing.

"For a very long time, the city didn't do enough to address our homelessness crisis," Raman said in an interview Thursday. The lack of response has forced employees, like baristas at Starbucks, to become the "front-line response to the ongoing crisis," she said.

Raman said she is working to expand the Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) program, which is an alternative to non-emergency 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness.

"We are laser-focused on ending homelessness," Raman said. "We need to be acting with greater urgency on this."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.