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Starbucks Diffuses 'Appreciation Day' Controversy By Closing Newtown Location Early

Photo: Shannon Hicks

Newtown’s Starbucks location was closed by 5:45 Friday evening, diffusing tensions that had been building during the day between pro-gun and gun control advocates. Many people at the Newtown store were caught off guard by the early closing.

Many customers arriving for a quick Friday night venti latte at the local Starbucks had no idea they were driving into the middle of a breaking national news event as media reports escalated about a possible clash between pro- and anti-gun supporters at the Church Hill road store.

But Starbucks said the Newtown store opted to close early before advocates on both sides of the gun issue planned to gather there. Starbucks Vice President Chris Carr said on the company website that the decision was made out of respect to the community.

“Today, advocacy groups from different sides of the open carry debate announced plans to visit our Newtown, Connecticut store to bring attention to their points of view,” Carr’s letter reads. “We recognize that there is significant and genuine passion surrounding this topic, however out of respect for Newtown and everything the community has been through we decided to close our store early before the event started. Starbucks did not endorse or sponsor the event."

Mr Carr said the company will continue to encourage customers and advocacy groups from all sides of the debate to contact their elected officials, who make the open carry laws that the company follows.

“Our long-standing approach to this topic has been to comply with local laws and statutes in the communities we serve,” he closed.

That did not stop a group of legally carrying patrons from showing up during the 6 to 8 pm timeframe — in fact, all day at the Newtown store and elsewhere, as evidenced by photos that also began appearing on social media sites as well as reports through phone calls and emails sent to The Bee on Friday — they advertised in social media messages.

Organizers of a ‘‘Starbucks Appreciation Day’’ said in a Facebook ad that they wanted to thank Starbucks for standing up for their rights to bear arms and would meet at the store.

At 5:45 Friday evening a few in the group of more than a dozen firearms advocates were seen in the parking lot engaging in feisty conversations with a smaller group of anti-gun supporters representing several causes. Meanwhile, many other folks just showing up for a visit to the Church Hill Road location were surprised at both the groups outside the store as well as the business’s early closing. Visitors of all ages walked to the door before realizing the interior was darkened, and then returned to their vehicles empty-handed.

Newtown Action Alliance, a gun control group, objected to the planned gathering saying the community was still healing, and asked Starbucks earlier in the day to evaluate its policy allowing guns into their stores.

In a social media post, NAA singled out the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL) as the impromptu organizer of the planned gathering in Newtown. That organization’s president said in a statement Friday that Starbucks Appreciation Day was a nationwide event.

“It is true that members of our organization have planned to meet at several store locations across the state to show gratitude for allowing the lawful carrying of firearms,” the statement from CCDL President Scott Wilson read.

The pro-gun organization president said patronizing Starbucks was not a planned nor coordinated event by the leadership of CCDL “in any way, shape or form. Individual members from CCDL decided to meet on their own, and pay homage to the coffee chain.”

“While we fully support the rights of our members or other individuals to visit Starbucks when lawfully carrying a firearm, recent statements that were made by certain individuals do not constitute an official statement from CCDL,” Mr Wilson’s concludes.

Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization created by community members in the aftermath of 12/14, issued a statement early Friday afternoon about the planned gathering in Newtown:

“As supporters of the Second Amendment, it saddens us today to hear that residents outside our community have designated our local Newtown Starbucks as a site to openly carry their firearms in order to ‘celebrate’ gun ownership. We support the right of all voices in this debate to be heard, but believe that the sensitivities in Newtown deserve special consideration as well. It is our hope that those who wish to make a political statement today, do it at any of the other Starbucks outside the 10 miles radius of Newtown, and have the common sense to give grieving parents and families privacy and respect in their home town.”

The NAA Facebook page asked Starbucks customers to consider patronizing Sandy Hook businesses.

“We are truly touched by the outpouring of support from our alliances,” the post reads,” and would ask that you instead make your show of solidarity by bringing business to the shops of Sandy Hook that have been hard hit since December.”

Associated Press content was used in this report.

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