Saturday, April 28, 2007

Photographer explores ubiquity of Dunkin' Donuts.

Reading my hometown newspaper online this morning, I spotted this article on a new exhibit of photographs currently on display in Providence, Rhode Island. Here are some excerpts:
When Anna Low moved [to Providence] from Chicago, the professional photographer found something puzzling and strangely eye-catching wherever she looked.

A familiar orange-and-pink coffee shop logo.

So Low set out to photograph all the Dunkin' Donuts near her home in Providence in what she describes as a "tongue-in-cheek" project. The result is a new exhibit at Providence City Hall called "36 Dunkin' Donuts in a Three-Mile Radius of Home."

"When people give you directions, they'll say, 'Oh, go straight until you see the Dunkin' Donuts on your left and then take a right,'" said Low, 34, who professes an interest in shooting "industrial junk and rusty stuff."

"It's everywhere. It's so pervasive," she said of the coffee and doughnut chain.

. . .

Dunkin' Donuts has headquarters in Canton, Mass., and more than 2,000 shops in New England. Rhode Island has 169, and while Low initially contemplated photographing every shop within a 5-mile radius of her home, she rejected that idea as overwhelming.

Susanne Norwitz, a spokeswoman for Dunkin' Brands, issued a statement calling the exhibit a testament to Dunkin' Donuts' popularity.

As for Low, she said she's not a big fan of chain restaurants or even of Dunkin' Donuts - though she and her husband once had coffee and doughnuts there while she was working on the project.

"Like any chain store, you lose personality, you lose variety, you lose diversity," she said.

Low said she was still trying to understand the depth of loyalty Rhode Islanders seem to feel for the coffee chain.

"I would love to know where that comes from," she said.
Admittedly, I'm not from Rhode Island. However, I do come from an area where loyalty to Dunkin' Donuts was just as deep as Low finds it to be in the Ocean State. Dunkin' Donuts is, as a 2004 article in the New Bedford Standard-Times put it, "[The] SouthCoast's most popular wake-up call". This article presents the closest thing I've seen to a sociological analysis of the Dunkin' Donuts phenomenon, so I recommend it to those who share Low's curiosity. To say the very least, Dunkin' Donuts is a pervasive presence in Southeastern Massachusetts. The Standard-Times offers some instructive statistics:
. . . 43 Dunkin' Donuts are squeezed into the 28 miles between Fall River and Wareham. Not a single Starbucks brews a cup of coffee along that same swath of land. [Editorial note: Strictly speaking this is no longer true, but given that Starbucks has only established three stores on the SouthCoast in the last three years, they aren't really giving Dunkin' Donuts much competition.] A handful of Honey Dews and mom-and-pop shops gallantly fight the steady onslaught of magenta and orange.

But as customers flock to Dunkin' Donuts each morning like prairie animals to a watering hole, the SouthCoast has established itself as one of the company's most profitable areas. With one store for every 7,000 people - in some cases, locations are situated so customers do not have to make an extra left turn - only Boston and Providence compete in importance, Dunkin' Donuts representatives said.
Coming from the Dunkin' Donuts heartland, I'll admit that I've played my part in maintaining the SouthCoast's intense brand loyalty. I'm hard-pressed to explain the phenomenon - though the Standard-Times' analysis makes a lot of sense to me - but I'll admit that it's something very real. There's something about Dunkin' Donuts that shouts "home" to me - not simply because the chain is omnipresent in the area where I grew up, but because I can connect Dunkin' Donuts with specific memories of my childhood and adolescence, like devouring a box of Munchkins while watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Despite the nostalgic associations that Dunkin' Donuts has for me, I am not an uncritical fan of the franchise - in my view, the quality and variety of doughnuts available at most Dunkin' Donuts outlets has declined since the chain started to expand their menu to include bagels, muffins, sandwiches and the like. Nonetheless, I still felt a strange sense of pride in stumbling upon a number of Dunkin' Donuts in Lima, as though a small piece of my home had been transplated to South America. So, while I can't explain to Anna Low where Dunkin' Donuts loyalty comes from, I can affirm that it's real. AMDG.


At 4/29/2007 10:05 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

In Canada, the ubiquitous donut spot is Tim Horton's, which, according to my Canadian spouse, inspires similar fond feelings.

I wonder if the smells of the frying dough and yeast is what reaches so far into our souls and our past. It reminded me of Proust's madeline, where the memories of his youth rose with the scent?


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