Starbucks offering wine and beer at select locations

SEATTLE -  Starbucks Corp., the company that proved there's no such thing as paying too much for a cup of coffee, is expanding its experiment with two other elixirs that Americans love, wine and beer.

The company said Monday it will start selling wine, beer and "premium" foods, like small plates and hot flatbread sandwiches, at four to six stores in Atlanta and another four to six stores in Southern California by the end of the year. That builds on the company's recent announcement of the same plans for about half a dozen stores in Chicago.

Starbucks first tested the wine and beer concept at a store in its headquarters city of Seattle in October 2010. It now serves beer and wine at five stores in Seattle and one in Portland, Ore. The company hasn't released numbers on whether the new drinks have increased traffic, but it says that the change has been popular with customers. The wine and beer lists will differ by region. The stores in Washington state and Oregon serve Dead Guy Ale and Stella Artois lager, among other drinks.

The coffee giant says the alcoholic offerings, which won't be available until the afternoon, will help it attract evening customers and expand its appeal to community groups and book clubs looking for space to meet. It could also be a way to attract higher-end customers, a tack many companies are taking as the middle class is squeezed by the weak economy. Starbucks said in a news release that it selected stores "where it is relevant for the neighborhood."

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