Every year I think I’m ready for the Comic-Con crowds. And every year they astonish me. By the time I’ve gotten used to the crowd level from Thursday and Friday, it’s Saturday, and there are even more people.

Katie got up 2 hours before I did to make sure she got a spot in the Heroes line. She succeeded, and managed to get into the hall before I even made it to the convention center. Of course, that was in part because I wanted to grab cash, coffee, and a sandwich to hang onto for lunch before I got in. I think I stood in line for at least 10 minutes waiting for an ATM at a branch in the Gaslamp district. There were two machines, one of which was broken, and the two — just two — people ahead of me were both making deposits. And the machine was slow.

As for coffee, I figured I’d go to a Starbucks just because it was closer — but once I got to the nearest one, I realized I wasn’t far from an It’s a Grind. So I walked the two blocks, and passed another Starbucks on the way. ūüėē So I grabbed coffee and something to eat, then spent at least 20 minutes at Subway. Then I had to wait for the trolleys so I could cross the tracks…

By the time I got to the convention center, they were letting the Hall H line in. It was running all through the park area at the end of the center, zig-zagging around, and reportedly went all the way to Seaport Village. Which doesn’t make sense, because IIRC Seaport Village is at the other end of the center, so maybe they were talking about the line for badge pickups?

I waited near the front, figuring I’d hand Katie her water bottle and crochet hooks on the way in, but then I asked one of the “Elite” staff when the line started moving — and it had been almost an hour earlier.

So I went back to Artist’s Alley to pick up that sketch from Todd Nauck. He was off doing a signing at the DC booth. So I went to the reservation desk to set up for dinner. Which took a while, since I went through the main floor, which was a very cattle-drive-like experience. At least my shoulders are starting to get used to the backpack again, though I’m starting to feel like I’m in that third-day convention haze. (Plus I had only a scone and coffee, instead of a full breakfast, which might have something to do with it.)

There are a lot more people in costumes here today. As expected, there are lots of Jokers this year — so many, in fact, that I’ve stopped paying attention to them except for the really good ones and the creative ones. I’ve seen at least two Nurse Jokers over the last few days, possibly three.

I’m waiting for the Tori Amos/Comic Book Tattoo panel now. I figured the line would be long, so I showed up about 45 minutes early, but it turned out they were letting people walk right into the Ralph Bakshi panel, so I wandered in, watched the end of it, then moved to a better seat at the break. The room’s packed, and there are about 10 minutes left before the panel. But I’m only 5 rows back, and a little off to the side, which is better seating than I’ve had at any of her concerts.

A couple of years ago, Starbucks bought all 30 or so company-owned Diedrich Coffee stores.  There were a couple of franchise locations left (well, kiosks, really) in Orange County, and one of the Texas stores, but that was it.  Most of them were converted or shut down, with only two keeping the Diedrich name and menu (both in Irvine, oddly enough).  The one across from UCI eventually got converted.

The Diedrich nearest where we live was always busy. ¬†After it had been assimilated, though, we never saw it full. ¬†People didn’t go there just because of the location, they went there because it was a Diedrich.

Now it’s on the list of stores that Starbucks is closing, along with a newer one that opened about a quarter-mile away. ¬†(They haven’t updated the web page yet, but it’s on the PDF.)

In essence, Starbucks bought an (apparently) successful business and ran it into the ground.  I really hate when that happens.

Obviously the place, when it was a Diedrich, wasn’t taking money that would have gone to Starbucks, since their customers didn’t stick around when it was converted. ¬†And the one store that does still have the Diedrich name and menu always has customers whenever I end up in the area — so it’s not just people avoiding the parent company. It’s people who don’t like the Starbucks coffee and atmosphere. ¬†(And possibly the name.)

I have to wonder how that other store would have done if they’d kept it intact instead of homogenizing it.

Update: Martin Diedrich picked up the empty storefront after Starbucks left, and opened his second K√©an Coffee in March 2009. Once again, it’s always busy. Funny, that!

Between cash, lunch and an errand, I walked the full length of the Irvine Spectrum today, and realized there will soon be 7 coffee shops in or near the shopping center—and 4 of them are Starbucks.

It opened with just one: a Diedrich Coffee, attached to Barnes & Noble.

Phase 2 (from the movie theaters to the carousel) added a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

Phase 3 (from the carousel to the ferris wheel) doubled the number, adding a Kelly’s Coffee & Fudge, and a Starbucks inside Barnes & Noble, which moved into the new section.

Somewhere around then the Diedrich closed. Without the bookstore traffic, it was off in a corner where only people going to restaurants would see it.

Then they put in a Nordstrom, with a Nordstrom e-Bar.

Then they extended the mall past the Nordstrom, put a Target at the end, and put a Starbucks in the Target.

Then they built an apartment complex across the street, and put a Starbucks in the apartment complex.

Now they’ve gone back to the first section, adding a new row of shops in front of the movie theater. And they’re filling in a corner long left vacant…with another Starbucks.

So, you’re going to Comic-Con, you want coffee, but you don’t want Starbucks. Maybe you don’t like their coffee, maybe you don’t like their size, or maybe you don’t like the fact that they sued a comic book artist over a parody several years ago.

I’ve been to a couple of It’s a Grind locations over the past few years, and decided to do some Internet searching for other coffee places in Downtown San Diego.

First, the chains:

It’s a Grind – highly recommended.

  • 1603 India St. (India & Cedar in Little Italy, near trolley stop)*
  • 690 First Ave. (1st & G, across from Ralphs, near Horton Plaza)
  • 10th & J St. (marked as Coming Soon on website)

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

  • 160 W. Broadway (Broadway & Front, near Horton Plaza)
  • Also inside the Ralphs at 1st and Market

No sign of Kelly’s or Peet’s, and of course Diedrich is gone. Though Starbucks has 15 locations plus the Seattle’s Best in the Gaslamp Borders.

I found a couple of lists at San Diego Coffee Houses and String Beans. I’m not sure how many of them are actually downtown, but these appear to be:

Seaport Coffee and Fudge Factory

  • 849 West Harbor Drive

Twiggs Coffeehouse*

  • 702 Ash Street (Ash & 7th)

Brickyard Coffee & Tea

  • 675 W G St (between 6th Ave & 7th Ave at the Seaport Village trolley stop)

If you get out to Old Town San Diego, I highly recommend stopping by the San Diego Coffee and Tea House. Seriously consider picking up a bag of Highlander Grog to take home.

* Not near convention center, but still downtown & near hotels.

So, are there any San Diego natives reading? Any suggestions–especially for places within walking distance of the convention center?

I stopped in a Starbucks after lunch last Wednesday. I confused the barista by ordering a frappucino—he said something about how I was going to freeze my kidneys or something, and when I remarked that I was going to be in the office, he said he was joking with everyone who ordered anything cold. (Local readers may recall that last week was not particularly warm by SoCal standards.)

I also noticed a stack of boxes by the wall, all of them like this:

No Peeking.  The holidays are coming November 10.

(For the record, this was November 9.) I assumed they were full of Starbucks’ Christmas and holiday-themed merchandise, but it was the phrasing that got me. The holidays start November 10? That’s kind of early, isn’t it?

I suppose it depends on which holidays we’re talking about. Usually, “The Holidays” refers to the Thanksgiving–Christmas period that also manages to encompass Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Boxing Day. (Wait, no one actually observes Boxing Day? Well, never mind, then.) They could be including Veterans’ Day, but there’s not much in the way of decorations, and the merchandising possibilities don’t tend to overlap much with coffee paraphernalia.

Hmm, here’s an odd thought. In America, we always associate snow with Christmas. Hence the snowflakes printed on the box. But in the southern hemisphere, December is the beginning of summer. I suspect Christmas songs like “Winter Wonderland” don’t get much play in Australia.