If you enjoy sipping a refreshing beverage while reading Hotspots, you may find yourself out of luck these days — at least you might if you live in or visit Wilton Manors. Since last October, Starbucks has refused to allow Hotspots Media to distribute magazines in the lobby of its store on 26th Street near Five Points.
We first became aware of the problem when the manager of the store contacted us.
“Starbucks has changed the policy around magazines in our lobbies,” the manager emailed on October 20. “[T]he current protocol is that ALL magazines must be approved [by] my District and Area managers before being displayed. We welcome most magazines, but unfortunately, because of Hotspots’ provocative covers, the magazine has not been approved, and we can’t have it in the lobby.”
The policy change was news to us and, while we were dismayed, we were grateful to the store manager for reaching out. The store manager identified himself as a Hotspots reader and clearly regretted having to be the bearer of bad news. “This isn’t a closed door,” he wrote. “If ever you wish to have your magazines in our Starbucks lobby, you can have any covers or magazines sent to my District Manager for approval BEFORE dropping off so we don’t have any misunderstandings.”
That same day, I emailed the district manager.
I pointed out that Hotspots has been serving Wilton Manors for more than three decades, and that the city has the largest concentration of LGBT households per capita in the country. I also made it clear that the magazine has high standards: “We have a very strict policy about content and images and never allow anything in the magazine that would be considered ‘provocative’.”
I noted that the issue out that week, which did feature a buff, shirtless guy (as our covers often do) was shot in a gym, and that the issue itself was a Health Issue. I assured her that our cover photo was no more provocative than the shirtless models often featured on leading, national men’s health and fashion magazines — and then helpfully provided a lineup of the latest Hotspots cover sandwiched between covers of Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Men’s Journal, and GQ. Each one featured a photo of an attractive, muscular man with his shirt off (actually, Men’s Journal had two: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte). I invited the district manager to call me to discuss the matter and provided my mobile number for her convenience.
We heard nothing from Starbucks for more than four months. Finally, on March 1, I emailed the district manager again, explained that readers who were accustomed to picking up Hotspots at the Five Points Starbucks had been complaining that the magazine was no longer distributed there, and asked for the ban to be lifted: “We respectfully ask that Hotspots magazine be allowed to return to the location along with the others.”
What others, you ask? Other LGBT publications, including OutClique and Metro Guys, which continue to be available in the Starbucks at Five Points.
That same day, the district manager denied our request: “I am unable to approve a magazine with content that is not family appropriate, as this is a location that serves all of the Wilton Manors Community, including school children and families,” she wrote. “If you would like to drop off several copies of your magazine in the store, I would be happy to review those with the new regional manager and get back to you on a response.”
I was not surprised to have the “children and families” card played. It’s commonly deployed against LGBT businesses. Fortunately, I am particularly well positioned to respond.
“As a father and grandfather, I understand,” I emailed. “Our content follows federal PG-13 guidelines, and I agree and remind our advertisers that ‘a 13-year-old girl can pick up our publication at Dunkin’ Donuts.’ I also want to remind you that LGBTs are parents too.”
I pointed out that Hotspots is approved by the cities of Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors to have our distribution boxes out on the sidewalks. I also reminded her that Starbucks has been a strong supporter of the LGBT community nationally. The company’s booth at Orlando Pride even happened to be right next to the Hotspots booth two years in a row.
We took the manager up on her offer and left a package of recent issues at the Five Points store for review by the regional director.
The next week, our president emailed to make sure the package had been received and ask whether the magazines had been reviewed. He also proposed an ongoing review process. “I could send you the electronic magazine every Wednesday for review/approval, so it could be distributed on Thursday to the store,” he emailed. ”Alternatively, if you approve, we could have a weather-proof box [installed] outside the store by the entrance/parking lot for our readers.”
The district manager responded March 6: “[T]he magazine will need to be reviewed by our regional director. I will get back to you once that process is complete. That process will definitely not be complete by this Thursday and we are unable to allow a box to be installed prior to approval. Thank you for delivering the magazines quickly. I will work as quickly as possible on my end as well!”
Since then, we’ve heard nothing. The district manager has not responded to three subsequent emails.
We’re getting stonewalled. And not in a good way.
I would encourage Hotspots readers who frequent the Wilton Manors Starbucks — and any others who feel, as I do, that the magazine is being unfairly singled out — to write a short message to Starbucks asking that Hotspots distribution at the Five Points be allowed to resume. Email your letter us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will collect all your responses and submit them to Starbucks for consideration.
We have made every effort to get this situation resolved to the satisfaction of everyone involved: Starbucks, Hotspots Media, residents of Wilton Manors, and you, our readers. Starbucks’ refusal to constructively engage us is simply not acceptable.
Peter Clark is publisher of Hotspots Media Group.