Help, Starbucks Towed My Car While I Was Sipping A Latte!

Andrew’s car was towed from Stabucks’ parking lot as he sat inside enjoying his drink. The Portland Starbucks apparently has a contract with a local predatory towing company that allows them to walk in, call out a bunch of license plate numbers, and tow any car whose owner doesn’t speak up.

Andrew cc’d us on his email to Starbucks.

To Whom it Will Concern:

I am writing to share with you an unfavorable experience I had not while inside a Starbucks location, but rather, outside of one: At approximately 2:45 pm on Saturday, the 10th of January, I found that my car had been towed from a Portland Starbucks parking lot by Retriever Towing.

You see, I was under the impression that I was going to be able to enjoy my Starbucks experience. I was not aware that my car would be towed from the Starbucks parking lot if I didn’t keep a watchful eye out for a marauding tow truck driver and let him know “yes, I am here, and no, you do not have permission to tow my car.” I reserved the right to enjoy my drink and ignore my surroundings, as a Starbucks customer. In fact, the parking lot sign stated that parking was for customers only, and as my receipt or bank statement and witnesses will attest, I most certainly was a customer.

It is the practice of Retriever Towing to record license plate numbers from cars in the parking lot, then check inside the business for those cars’ owners. Customers and partners alike will agree that this practice is detrimental to the Starbucks experience. In fact, a partner who was there when I returned to the store after I realized my car had been towed called the practice in general “vicious.” It has become (un)popularly known as “Predatory Towing”, and for Starbucks customers like myself, it comes down to this: if a customer is listening to music, reading, on an important phone call, otherwise indisposed while drinking their beverage, or unable or unwilling to be disturbed by a tow truck driver, they run the risk of having their car towed from the Starbucks parking lot. This does not take into account customers with handicaps or who are otherwise impaired and not able to be disturbed by a tow truck driver.

It is my request that Starbucks contact the owner of Retriever Towing, Gary Coe, or the General Manager, Charles White ( and urge them to cease or modify this regrettable behavior. It has affected me (to the tune of $210.50 for the tow), and I’m sure it has affected countless other Starbucks customers. Starbucks should refuse to do business with such a company, at the risk of tarnishing its own image, as well as giving implied consent to this gruesome tactic by standing by without formal consternation.

If you, the reader, are unable to personally contact the owner or general manager or Retriever Towing, I request that you escalate this message to someone who is able to take effective action. I have already addressed my concern to Mr. White, and also to the City of Portland’s Towing Commission and the local police department. I will press on with emails to the Consumerist and the BBB, as well as other businesses that share the parking lot where this unfortunate incident occurred, and other businesses in the area who utilize the services of Retriever Towing. Again, I urge Starbucks to not do business with a “predatory towing” company such as this, for fear of sending the wrong message:

“Welcome to Starbucks, have a drink, sit down, and feel right at home… but keep a weather eye on your car outside in the parking lot.”



Retriever Towing has several complaints on RipOff Report and their cruddy record includes charging an “anger fee” if you raise your voice to them. In Portland, they are notorious for towing a bloodied-up domestic violence victim’s car from outside her grandmother’s home. Clearly, these are the people Starbucks wants patrolling their lots.

Update: Andrew writes:

Thank you for helping me call attention to this! Starbucks was very quick to respond when I called their customer service line to follow up earlier this week. They provided me with the name of the company that owns the building (and the lot), and called back a few days later with an apology. They also asked for my address, and yesterday I received a gift card for $15 in the mail (even though I assured them that I was not looking for recompense from Starbucks).

I judge Starbucks initial response to be commendable – a big thanks to Malayna and Julie – but it remains to be seen how this problem will be dealt with in the long term for the rest of Oregon.

In the mean time, I followed up with the city’s towing commission, who took my statement and further noted many “inconsistencies” in Retriever Towing’s records relating to my tow. A full investigation is underway, and they will render a judgment on or before Thursday, 1/29.

(Photo: LinBow)

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