Rev. Billy’s bitter coffee war


By Jefferson Siegel

On Saturday, anticonsumerism performance preacher Reverend Billy returned to the scene of one of his favorite targets, the Astor Pl. Starbucks.

Reverend Billy — real name Bill Talen — said his ire was stoked by Starbucks’ refusal to sign a licensing agreement with Ethiopia’s coffee industry, though Starbucks has trademarked ancient Ethiopian coffee bean names for its own brand. Ethiopia derives half its export earnings from coffee.

The performance preacher and his Stop-Shopping Choir gathered by the Astor Pl. Cube. He briefly preached against the coffee giant, then, Jesus-like, hoisted his white lectern onto his shoulder and marched in.

Billy plopped his podium down in the store and started preaching; his choir started singing. But the chain — which has issued a staff advisory titled: “What Should I Do if Reverend Billy Is in My Store?” — knew of his plans. A corporate-looking type immediately asked him to leave. Six other corporate types dashed through the crowd, telling people they couldn’t video or photograph.

Police entered and told Billy to leave. He exited, but outside resumed preaching through a big white megaphone. A captain approached and could be overheard calmly asking Billy, “Do you want to be arrested?” Soon after, Billy was handcuffed and taken to the Ninth Precinct. He was charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct and held overnight at Central Booking.

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel