New Hope Mayor, Larry Keller waits to serve another customer Friday, Dunkin Donuts is ready to take on Starbuck?s which is across the street. After a number of delays and controversy, Dunkin Donuts is opening at 9 a.m. Friday........Photo by Rick Kintzel

New Hope Mayor, Larry Keller waits to serve another customer Friday, Dunkin Donuts is ready to take on Starbuck?s which is across the street. After a number of delays and controversy, Dunkin Donuts is opening at 9 a.m. Friday........Photo by Rick Kintzel

The artsy borough of New Hope, a flood-prone hamlet along the Delaware River in Bucks County, prides itself as a gay-friendly place of antiques dealers, collectibles retailers, restaurants, and other small-town merchants.

So the opening in late March of a Dunkin’ Donuts at the town’s main intersection – the highest-profile retail location and just over the bridge from Lambertville, N.J. – has caused economic distress of sorts for the borough of 2,400 that swells with shoppers and motorcycle enthusiasts on nice-weather weekends.

Some New Hope shop owners fear Dunkin’ will be a down-market intruder on a trendy business district and will undermine the unique character of the borough’s main strip.

“I am not very big on Dunkin’ Donuts being here at all,” said Stasia Kauriga, the liberally tattooed clerk of Love Saves the Day, which retails vintage clothing, oddball action figures, used furs, and Pez dispensers. “Dunkin’ Donuts. I mean, we look like South Street or something. It doesn’t fit with the town. This is a historic town.”

Heinke Hazzard, the longtime owner of Ferry Hill, a decorative-arts and antiques store, was more pragmatic. “I am not going to say I’m going to move because it’s there,” said Hazzard, who retails European-style collectibles and speaks with a German accent.

She asked rhetorically of the Dunkin’ location: “Was it going to stay empty for the next five years? What were we going to do? You have to go with the flow.”

Dunkin’ Donuts, a Massachusetts-based chain, has expanded rapidly by adding 200 stores in the last five years in the Philadelphia area, for a total of slightly more than 500 in the region. The chain has upgraded its image and its menu, recently launching a line of lower-calorie flatbread sandwiches.

And many New Hope residents, despite the business opposition, seem to welcome the potential latte wars between the blue-collar Dunkin’, with its 99-cent iced coffees, and Starbucks, located directly across the street at East Bridge and Main Streets.

Revi Haviv, 26, breezed into the Dunkin’ on Thursday afternoon for her regular – a coffee with skim milk. She did not initially believe that Dunkin’ was an appropriate outlet for New Hope. But she does not like the taste of Starbucks coffee. “What are you going to do?” she asked. “Fight it forever?”

Dunkin’ franchisee owners Joni and Joe Glassman, a wife and husband, wondered the same thing. They signed a lease in December 2006 and hoped to open in August 2007. First, though, they had to get the Dunkin’ Donuts through zoning, which was a chore. The Glassmans renovated the store, built a wheelchair ramp, installed an extensive sprinkler system, and altered the Dunkin’ Donuts signage to conform with borough architecture.

The Glassmans will not say how much they invested, but they note it was several hundred thousand dollars. As they were making the improvements, they were making lease payments on the location.

They think Dunkin’ can compete with Starbucks in coffee and offer families with children a place for soft-serve ice cream and other goodies when they shop in New Hope.

“This town needs revitalization,” said Joni Glassman. “I think the flood hurt a lot, and businesses are afraid to invest in their operations. One of the things we hear is how fresh and beautiful the store looks.”

The opposition has subsided, she believes, and Joe Glassman, who calls himself a “Dunkaholic,” noted that New Hope Mayor Laurence D. Keller participated in the shop opening. Keller, in an interview, said: “I’m just happy to see it occupied. Dunkin’ Donuts is allowed to be there. And if they’re successful, it’s OK by me.”

With Dunkin’ and Starbucks duking it out toe-to-toe for caffeine sippers, residents are watching the nearby C’est La Vie, a coffee and French pastry shop that is the kind of business that makes New Hope so special, many say.

“We decided we would stick to our niche,” said Jane Vitart, who owns C’est La Vie with her husband, Joel. “We sell coffee and I think we sell a good cup of coffee.” But C’est La Vie’s competitive advantage, she said, is pastries. Dunkin’ “has cut into our market for coffee a little bit, but not pastries,” she said.

On the Starbucks porch on Friday morning, a glorious day with the sun, Merit Stephenson sipped a latte. “I like Starbucks coffee. I think it’s better quality,” said Stephenson, who lives in Manhattan but was raised in Washington Crossing and has family in Bucks County. “I think the controversy here is that the locals don’t think Dunkin’ Donuts is appropriate for the town. It’s a little snobbish.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer