SEATTLE–After a decade of aggressive expansion throughout North America and abroad, Starbucks suddenly and unexpectedly closed its 2,870 worldwide locations Monday to prepare for what company insiders are calling "Phase Two" of the company's long-range plan.
"Starbucks has completed the coffee-distribution and location establishment phase of its operation, and is now ready to move into Phase Two," read a statement from Cynthia Vahlkamp, Starbucks' chief marketing officer. "We have enjoyed furnishing you with coffee-related beverages and are excited about the important role you play in our future plans. Please pardon the inconvenience while we fortify the second wave of our corporate strategy."
Though the coffee chain's specific plans are not known, existing Starbucks franchises across the nation have been locked down with titanium shutters across all windows. In each coffee shop's door hangs the familiar Starbucks logo, slightly altered to present the familiar mermaid figure as a cyclopean mermaid whose all-seeing eye forms the apex of a world-spanning pyramid.
Those living near one of the closed Starbucks outlets have reported strange glowing mists, howling and/or cowering on the part of dogs that pass by, and electromagnetic effects that cause haunting, unearthly images to appear on TV and computer screens within a one-mile radius. Experts have few theories as to what may be causing the low-frequency rumblings, half-glimpsed flashes of light, and periodic electronic beeps emanating from the once-busy shops.
In addition, newly painted trucks marked with the nuclear trefoil, the biohazard warning symbol, and various mystic runes of the Kaballah have been spotted rolling out of Starbucks distribution warehouses.
A spokesman for Hospitality Manufacturing, a restaurant-supply company that does business with Starbucks, provided some insight as to what Phase Two might entail.
"This week, they cancelled their usual 500,000-count order of Java Jackets and ordered 1.2 million Starbucks-insignia armbands instead," Hospitality Manufacturing's Jasper Hennings said. "They also called off their standing order for restaurant-grade first-aid kits, saying they had a heavy-duty source for those now. And, most ominous of all, they've stopped buying stirrers altogether."
"I don't like the looks of this," added Hennings before disappearing late Monday night.
No Starbucks employees were available for comment, as those not laid off in January's "loyalty-based personnel restructuring" or hospitalized in the series of freakish, company-wide milk-steamer malfunctions that severely scalded hundreds of employees, have been sent to re-training centers.
Remaining Starbucks employees earmarked for re-training are being taught revised corporate procedures alongside 15,500 new hires recently recruited from such non-traditional sources as the CIA retirement program, Internet bulletin boards frequented by former Eagle Scouts, and the employment section in the back of Soldier Of Fortune magazine.
More insight into Phase Two was provided by the company's most recent quarterly stockholders' report, which features a map of North America showing the location of every existing Starbucks. Lines drawn between the various stores form geometric patterns across the U.S., including five-pointed stars, Masonic symbols, and, in the Seattle area, the image of a gigantic Oroborous serpent wrapped around an inverted ziggurat.
Starbucks management has been tight-lipped regarding the upcoming changes. No upper-level executives have been seen in public since the first of the month, and no details seem to be forthcoming. Visitors to the Starbucks web site, however, are greeted with a letter from Starbucks founder Howard Schultz reading in part:
"To our valued Starbucks customer: Just wait until you see the exciting changes we've got in store for you as part of our new Phase Two. When you finally see what we've got brewing here at Starbucks, you'll have no choice but to love it."