Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press
A sign in a Starbucks in downtown Pittsburgh is pictured on March 24, 2018. Provo is finally getting its own stand-alone store — near Brigham Young University.

PROVO — Chad Thomas, Provo's economic development manager, has heard the rumors and conspiracy theories for years.

The city, he insists with a laugh, has never made any efforts to prevent Starbucks from setting up shop in Provo.

And while the world's biggest coffee chain seems to be everywhere with more than 24,000 retail stores in 70 countries, according to its website, Starbucks hasn't had a stand-alone store in Utah's third-largest city — until now.

After a surge of Starbucks store openings in Utah County within the past six years, Provo is getting its own stand-alone store — near Brigham Young University.

The news of a Starbucks opening in Provo made Taylor Larsen, former editor of the Utah County-based online satirical news site "The BunYion,” laugh and ask why it has taken so long.

“This idea that expensive overpriced drinks aren’t popular, I mean … everyone drinks all that soda at Swig and Sodalicious,” he said.

In 2013, the website posted a tongue-in-cheek article titled, "Starbucks Opens In Provo Amid Protests." As of this week, the article was among the site's top articles.

The article quoted one fake protester as saying, “Listen, I love hot chocolate, but they make it right next to the coffee. How can I be sure a few coffee beans aren’t slipping into my hot chocolate?"

Larsen, who was a senior at BYU at the time the article was published, said the idea stemmed from Starbucks having a bad reputation on campus and not having a lot of coffee shops in Provo to choose from at the time.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the predominant religion in Provo, has a law of health requiring its members to abstain from alcoholic drinks, illegal drugs, tobacco as well as tea and coffee. BYU, a private university owned by the church, requires its students to abide by its honor code, which includes those same restrictions.

When Larsen graduated from BYU in 2015, he said he noticed a shift in the city embracing a more vibrant food scene.

"Provo is shifting and growing and it's not catering to a student audience," he said.

"Starbucks is always looking for great locations to better meet the needs of our customers, and we are happy to confirm that we will be opening a new location" in Provo, a Starbucks spokeswoman said.

The 2,400-square-foot cafe will be located at 1160 N. University Ave. and is expected to open in the spring of 2020. Adjacent to the location is Einstein's Bros. Bagels and Costa Vida.

The stand-alone store will feature art created by local artists in the community.

"As our first location to open in Provo, we are thrilled to become a part of the neighborhood and serve as a gathering place for citizens of the community," the spokeswoman said.

Thomas said the global coffee company has been interested in placing a location in Provo for "quite some time" and had previously looked at locations near BYU and south Provo.

"We do have a Starbucks in the (Provo) Marriott, but this will be the first stand-alone Starbucks. It's a big deal. We're always excited when we get national interests from national franchises," he said.

The Starbucks located in the Marriott Hotel is a licensed store and not owned by the corporation.

Thomas said there are a plethora of local coffee shops situated in Provo like Juice 'n Java, Peace on Earth and Rugged Grounds, as well as other eateries that sell coffee. He added it's an easy stigma to associate Provo as a "coffee desert" and that old stigmas die hard.

"It's not like we don't have coffee already in Provo," he said. "We have some amazing coffee shops down here."

Thomas said the community feedback of having a Starbucks in Provo is mixed and that Starbucks and local coffee shops might serve different purposes for each customer.

"As Utah County continues to grow, as we know it's going to double in population by 2040, the market is just going to get bigger and even our local coffee shops aren't too worried about it," he said.

Thomas noted that the area Starbucks will be placed is popular among students and could spark the interest of other chains moving to Provo.

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"As Provo continues to evolve and people continue to realize that Provo is more diverse and we really are a city that lives to our motto 'Welcome Home,' I think sure, more national tenants will look at Utah County as a whole," he said.

In response to the viral attention the city has received over the new Starbucks location, employees of Provo's economic development department have launched a social media campaign to celebrate coffee shops in Provo and give away Provo coffee mugs.

"We thought we'd have some fun with the public," Thomas said.