Is Starbucks a spa or our third place? Is it Barack or Hillary?

As Starbucks tries to recapture its old focus, it is stepping back from the music business — from the content business, really — and that made me wonder what spot Starbucks should fit into in our lives.

Its choice of books and music and emphasis on them said much about its old aspirations: a lifestyle company, yes, but one with a worldview and a message: fixing the world, fixing your life, soothing your soul.

But that’s not what Starbucks is to me: It’s my third place, an office, my place for meetings, writing, reading … and drinking a simple cup of coffee, nothing in it and no room for anything, thank you. I’m busy when I’m there. I want it to be pleasant but practical.

Starbucks wanted to be — or was — Barack Obama. I want it to be Hillary Clinton. (And given my preference in candidates — take that as a disclosure — you shouldn’t see this as an insult.)

So what sort of books should Starbucks sell, if it sells any? It occurs to me that it should sell business books, at least in some locations, if so many of us look at it as an extension of our business lives. (Of course, I’ll have one humble suggestion come spring; take that as another disclosure.)

What sort of music should it sell — and, for that matter, play — if any? It’s not easy for Starbucks, as customers see different places in the same location. Look at the discussion about music at Some want to turn it down so they can make a phone call or talk or read; others want the music to be more democratic for customers or employees; some wonder what the hell music has to do with coffee. It’s as fractured as the Democratic Party.

By putting CIO/CTO Chris Bruzzo — who also headed MyStarbucksIdea — in charge of entertainment now, it seems that Starbucks realizes it’s not a publisher or producer but a distributor and promoter. That’s a very important question to answer for businesses today: deciding what you are and where you fit in, and the answers aren’t the same as they were a decade ago, pre-internet.

And regarding the internet, I’m delighted at Starbucks’ new AT&T wi-fi deal, giving customers with cards two free hours a day. That says to me it is emphasizing business use.

So I wonder what it would look like to have a business-district Starbucks that goes all the way, renting desks to us: place 2.5. I wonder how a neighborhood Starbucks could be more a part of the neighborhood, using its connectivity and localness to gather the events and restaurant recommendations of the locals. (If an airline can be a social publisher, why not Starbucks?) What if Starbucks in cool, late-night neighborhoods got liquor licenses and had wine and port tastings? Does that confuse the brand or would our ability to mold the stores and the brand give it more context? A few years ago, McDonald’s violated advertising rules when it started advertising different brand messages to different audiences: to moms, it was a fun place to take the little buggers, to late-night stoners it was the place to get your midnight munchies. But the stores themselves didn’t change.

And where’s my point and grand conclusion? You got me. I don’t have one. I find companies’ self-examination and reformation fascinating and I’d be very interested in your take.