“My God…We can put these things closer together than we ever imagined.”

I drove 1,773 miles in June to attend a Dr. Tan Conference. I stopped at Starbucks no less than 15 times on the 30-hour drive. I could have stopped for more. Had I wanted to, I could have grabbed a java every 15-30 minutes–from Maryland to Chicago–because there were that many cafes. In some cities, Starbucks had even planted itself right across the street from…itself.

     A few years after Howard Schultz purchased the Starbucks company, his most profitable café was at a city-centre crossroads in Vancouver. It occupied a dilapidated space and had almost no room for customers to sit down. Yet this tiny Starbucks served 10,000 people each week – and those were just the ones who could get in. The café was turning away hundreds every day. Not one to take lost customers lightly, Schultz did something that had never been tried before. He opened another Starbucks just across the street – only 15 meters away – something any sensible businessman would have called outright crazy. The truly mind-boggling part is this: instead of laughing Starbucks out of town, customers flocked to the new site. Schultz expected the two cafes to eat away at each other’s profits, but they attracted different crowds. The new café lured the business set while the original drew a hipper clientele. And both groups turned-up in droves. Schultz had hit the jackpot. As Art Wahl, an early commercial real estate broker for Starbucks, put it: “After that, we said: ‘Oh my God . . . we can put these things closer together than we ever imagined.’”

     One-thousand-seven-hundred-and-seventy-three-miles from the East coast to the Midwest and back again (both distinctly different routes, lest I go mad along the way).  Hundreds of Starbucks en route.  Guess how many community acupuncture clinics I passed on my journey?


     Much like a caffeinated cup of beans, this medicine is made for travelers: weary backs from car trips, jet lag from plane travel, indigestion from meals-on-the-go. Anxiety about family reunions, headaches from over-caffeination (guilty), insomnia with polyester pillows—acupuncture offers the cheap and easy cure for all of a traveler’s ailments.  As community acupuncture becomes more commonplace, patients will expect it to be more readily available in their hometowns and abroad.

     Community acupuncture clinics belong wherever you see a Starbucks: at interstate rest areas and travel plazas, airports and train stations, shopping malls and grocery stores, hotel lobbies and college campuses.  We can think outside the boutique box, folks. 

     The success of a professional-crowd-café does not diminish the success of a hipster-crowd-cafe…in fact, each helps boost the other’s profits by increasing product recognition outside of the business establishment. That is, by carrying the cup around for the morning or mentioning to friends that they stopped-off for a cup of joe, coffee customers offer the very word-of-mouth marketing that is powering our own clinics.

     Just as Schultz found that each café attracts a particular crowd, so too will each of our community clinics build a unique niche. Each of our clinics will have its own vibe, in turn attracting its own crowd.  When multiple community clinics establish in close proximity to one another, lots of people will hear about community acupuncture. People hear that acupuncture is effective, and affordable, and accessible. The more community clinics there are located together, the more patients there are talking-it-up in the neighborhoods, which snowballs into more patients, and more chatter, and…you get the idea.

     More cities with community acupuncture.  More community acupuncture clinics in each city.  Ready.  Set.  Go!

Jessica Feltz
Author: Jessica Feltz

<p> I learned about Community Acupuncture while studying at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine (MCOM) in the Spring of 2006 when Lisa Rohleder's first article about her clinic appeared in Acupuncture Today. Coming from a middle-class background myself, I was the only student in my acupuncture class to have not experienced the healing benefits of this medicine prior to beginning studies at MCOM. I couldn't afford it. And my family couldn't understand what I was doing by investing in an education that they didn't perceive to be financially sustainable. </p> <p> The Community Acupuncture model is a perfect fit for me, balancing social justice and taoist simplicity with the patient's innate ability to heal him/herself (with a few gentle nudges from strategically placed needles). I am grateful every day to have found CAN and the love it brings into my life. I want to share that joy by spreading the message about how we can create a new health care experience in our communities through each of our very small efforts...and how those very small efforts can in turn change the world. </p> I enjoy my two sons, my 4 cats, and big stacks of books.  I own and operate...

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. SF

    The Bay Area will soon become a testing ground for this theory.  We are already one of the most acupuncture saturated markets in the U.S., and CA clinics are starting to pop-up all over the place.  I keep getting visits and reports from graduating students with CA plans in their futures.  

    Hopefully the future will hold CA for every neighborhood and micro-neighborhood in the City.


    Nice post.



    Circle Community Acupuncture

    San Francisco


  2. This blog has fabulous timing for me, Jessica.

    In a few months I’ll be starting my long dreamed-of clinic in Escondido, California.  I just discovered that a new CANner has just opened one there!  Eager to find a partner, I emailed him and started looking up his membership.  I was disappointed to see that he already has a great partner: his L.Ac. wife.

    But then I realized that Hey, Escondido will do fine with two CAPs there, and the bonus is that now I have someone to go to for myself.  As you say, we’ll attract different clientele, and our proximity will serve to gain publicity for our clinics and our mission.  We’ll be able to coordinate promotions with pooled resources, and refer to each other.

    Thanks for reminding us all about the Starbucks story.

  3. One day

    I’mnot a Starbucks fan myself, I don’t like coffee and their tea is the thing of nightmares. I like the occasional cocoa, but I’ve been in a depression ever since they discontinued their Chantico, the 500+ Calorie hot chocolate that Aldous Huxley best described as Soma.

    Whew, lost myslef for a minute there.

    Starbucks must have started small and eventually grew into the corporate mass that it is today because people went there. I look forward to the day when acupuncture is looked at in that way, or at least without the evil. The day will come when Community Acupuncture becomes the norm rather than having to hunt the locate a clinic page. The difference is that we aren’t selling a luxury, but peace and relief from what ails us all. 

    I’ve already had one practitioner in my tiny town accuse me of being like Starbucks (actually McDonalds) and I won’t care if I get that popular. At least I’m doing what I love and having more fun than when I was a SAP.

  4. wheat from the chaff

    nice post. i like the part about making acupuncture so normal that you might even see it at a rest stop.  as common as dirt as skip said, i believe. people begin to see it as something as regular as getting a cup of coffee. this is whats so great with CA clinics, there’s a common theme amongst all the clinics, in place of coffee its affordable and accesible healthcare. we have the benefits of commonality and the benefits of autonomy and individuality amongst our clinics. doesnt the corporate unbranding/rebranding concept seem a bit creepy though?! it seems rather dishonest. walmart has done something similar with their “neighborhood market” stores. similarly with whole foods, which i worked at for a time. it actually laughingly made me appreciate safeway/king soopers/albertsons/etc. in a way i never had. ya they are part of giant agrobusiness, pay low wages, and sell lots of food resembling products, but atleast you know what you are getting when you go there. whole foods has done more than its share of running small grociers out of busines, redfining organic/natural in very interesting ways, selling an image of purity, paying low wages, charging insane prices, and some very staunch anti-union practices. wolves in tie dye shirts creep me out even more than wolves do.

  5. uh-oh, here goes numbers guy again…

    so, Cali has about 37m people and 9500 LAcs or 1:4000, roughly.  (the avg nationwide is about  1 LAc : 12000 people.) 

    wondering, does Cali even have at most 100-200 $15-20 sliding scale acupuncturists at this time? this would be 1 affordable acupunk per 180,000-370,000 people. 

    If there are 50 sliding scale clinics in San Fran County, this is 1 clinic per 16,000 people. sounds like the people numbers can support many CA’s there.


  6. Corporate mass

    I’m not a fan of the corporate mass that is Starbucks, either.  I much prefer the local, small coffee shops.  But Starbucks is such a great example of how something which was formerly obscure–lattes–can become a household name, readily available in every neighborhood.  I can drive anywhere in the country and quickly find a shop to meet my caffeine needs.  Thirty years ago, none of us knew what a mocha or frappuccino were…how many of us haven’t tried one by now?  Can’t wait till people are saying that same thing about acupuncture…

  7. unbranding

    That is a whole ‘nother issue.  What I find particularly interesting about the unbranding, is that two years ago I worked with my local SBDC and Economic Development Dept to plan my clinic’s opening.  One of the suggestions their venture capitalists had was to brand, brand, brand.  They felt that this was Starbucks’ strength, and that by doing so, we (as community acupuncturists) would increase our level of name/product recognition.  And now look: Starbucks (and other corporate giants) are deviously removing their brand names after they’ve been tarnished…

  8. I support you there, Josh.

    Whole Foods is the darling of the newly awakened, and they can’t figure out why I keep telling them to go to the local natural food store instead.  My daughter worked for them for 5 years, and got the same experience you did.

  9. Lumiel, that’s great news!

    You must be really excited to start up a new clinic near your family.  It’s great to have other clinics nearby.  I love that I have choices when I need a treatment (if I could find the time that is)  We have also begun planning joint marketing events.  It’s especially nice because we are all single practitioner clinics so it feels a lot less lonely, and the energy of three people working together is so much stronger than 3 individuals.  

    I would welcome 20, or more clinics to metro Detroit, there is no feeling of competition, the more of us there are the more people are hearing about acupuncture.  The patients also seem to really love that we have this little network of clinics they can choose from, I have at least one patient who goes to one of the other clinics when it’s more convenient for her.    

  10. more CA, please.

    Spent this past weekend driving from Oregon to Nebraska and back for a wedding with the old lady.  Good lord how I would have loved to have found a CA clinic nestled in one of those truck stops.  They’ve got everything else in there – showers, crappy food, bad coffee, knick knacks, CB radios, beer, smokes, porno, music, movies, fashionable signifiers of working class identity and the trucking lifestyle, and really great bargains on pocket t shirts – they might as well set up some la-z-boys over by the video games and get into it.

    Also had the opportunity to drink some Starbuck’s, but out of a can.  Not exactly the best coffee, but it gets ya down the road a bit.

  11. Hopefully soon you’ll be

    Hopefully soon you’ll be accused of being Walmart.




    Mal: Well look at this. Seems we got here just in the nick of time! What does that make us?

    Zoë: Big damn heroes, sir.

    Mal: Ain’t we just.

  12. good wishes

    Jessica, I read about you and your work all of the time. You are an inspiration to all of us. I wish you many continued blessings in what you are doing. You are a great community acupuncture spokesperson from the East Coast. I just wanted to say you are much appreciated and THANKS A LOT!!!!!