Totnes: the town that declared war on Costa Coffee
August 17, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

"Like a lot of locals, he says that one of his big fears is Costa serving notice that Totnes is ready to be colonised, and sparking the arrival of Caffe Nero, Subway and all the rest." A town declares war on Costa Coffee.
posted by DarlingBri (58 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Totnes is a fun town. After we moved to Stroud, several people said that we should check out Totnes, as it was just as delightfully weird.

Here's the previous appearance of Totnes on Mefi.
posted by vacapinta at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2012


But why are they desperate to stop a branch of the giant chain opening up in town?

Yes, that's a good question. Why would they object? Are they perhaps people who fear a competitor? Who want to use the planning system to prevent a competitor entering their market? Who want to deny their fellow subjects a better product? Who can't compete with Costa, so want to use political pressure to avoid having to do so? Looks like it.

There is a lot of talk about a failure of democracy

"We're speaking for every young person here, I promise you. And older people," says Tighe. He glances up the street, towards a pub-cum-music-venue-cum-cafe called the Barrel House, and down towards the premises where Costa will soon pitch up. "No one in Totnes wants this, do they?"

Costa lacks popular support? Most people don't like it? Well, then, it won't make any money and it'll be gone soon. Problem solved!

I see it's an article in the Guardian. The Guardian newspaper allows itself to be sold in Totnes. It should pull out at once, so the people of Totnes are able to create their own newspapers and media outlets. Local newspapers for local people. They can all read the Totnes Times.
posted by alasdair at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, like Stroud and Lewes, Totnes has its own currency.
posted by vacapinta at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2012


Local newspapers for local people. They can all read the Totnes Times.

I know you're being sarcastic, but thats actually what they want to do. Totnes is one of the original Transition Towns. That means they want to prepare for a future in which more is local.
posted by vacapinta at 2:01 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I honestly don't understand the movement among towns and cities to ban chains. If the town doesn't want it, if it lacks popular support, won't it just die?

Banning chains from certain areas makes some sense. Granville Island in Vancouver, for example, is a chain-free-zone. This helps to keep the character of the area alive. Because the area is popular with tourists, chains probably would survive even if the locals didn't want them (until, for course, the area was drained of all uniqueness and tourists stopped visiting the area).

But creating legislation forbidding Costa Coffee from opening up shop in your entire town? Again, if there isn't popular support for the chain it seems like it would fail anyway. Why the need for legislation to ban it?
posted by asnider at 2:05 PM on August 17, 2012


Does Totnes have a thriving independent cafe scene, with local roasters and charismatic, trained baristas on every corner? Because otherwise ...

On the other hand, Costa is a bit shit. But in many places in the UK it's the only place you can rely on getting at least a mediocre coffee.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:09 PM on August 17, 2012


I read this article the other day. I'm not sure how I feel.

On the one hand, I love towns like Totnes. Although I have never been there, I have been to a few small towns with high levels of independents, and a seemingly thriving community. Indeed, I live in a town where the high street is 85% independent, and although residents are much poorer here than in Totnes, it is still possible to see the benefits of such an economic and social community.

That said, I'm not sure using the planning system to prevent a given business from opening is right. Planning should be "business-blind", in the sense that a development should be opposed on grounds no matter who might occupy it, such as an out of town shopping mall that generates excess traffic, for example.

We had a case like this in my own town, where Tesco--which has been here for 15+ years--wanted to expand. Many of the independents set up a campaign group to oppose it, but they were unsuccessful because there were few good grounds. One of the few reasons against that I supported is that, due to a new layout of retail this would cause (it's complicated), it might have a knockon effect and cause a modal shift in transport. However, after the loss of their campaign, the group morphed into a business partnership*, and so far that has been a great boon to the town. Coming together to oppose has generally been good just for the "coming together" part of it.

I feel that we should split opposition against multiples either onto legal or cultural grounds, and don't seek to blur the two. Even when we can't oppose on legal grounds, having the cultural "other" to form against is still useful. Totnes doesn't need Costa to know what it is, but it can be a good lesson to remind itself and other people.


*Well, not just businesses, but voluntary too. I'm a member through a third-sector organization, so it is almost a makeshift civic society, but with an emphasis on retail needs, which is vital to our town.
posted by Jehan at 2:10 PM on August 17, 2012


I kinda want to see if Totnes would like to be a sister city the place where I live.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2012


All must fall before GAP-WHSMITHS-COSTA-BOOTS-WHETERSPOON, multi headed god of the corporate highstreet! Do they have a PRET-A-PORTA yet?
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on August 17, 2012


If the town doesn't want it, if it lacks popular support, won't it just die?

No, because it will be supported by tourists.

Does Totnes have a thriving independent cafe scene, with local roasters and charismatic, trained baristas on every corner?

Yup, it does.

Yes, that's a good question. Why would they object? Are they perhaps people who fear a competitor?

There are, as mentioned in the story, literally dozens of coffee shops in Totnes. They are all independent. Costa is Starbucks. It's a chain. The rabid desire to protect Totnes from chains is legitimate even if you don't personally buy into it. Independent retailers are dying out. Virtually all UK high streets are now chain dominated and interchangeable from one another. Romford High Street looks exactly like Godalming High Street look exactly like etc. Seriously. It's a huge change from even 20 years ago. The only towns who have not fallen victim are too small for chain delivery trucks or have protective zoning legislation.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 PM on August 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't get it. If Costa Coffee (never been there) really is as bad as described:

"Shit," says one voice. "Corporate," offers another. "McDonald's," reckons a third.

... then the town's 42 other coffee chains has absolutely nothing to fear. What's wrong with competition?
posted by saeculorum at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2012


Within walking distance of my house, there's a Starbucks and an independent coffee shop. I would love to support the independent shop, really, I would, but ...

1) they're more expensive, which is surely a factor of Starbucks' buying power, and I'd be willing to overlook that if
2) they didn't take twice as long
3) their coffee wasn't as good
4) their service was friendly
5) they offered anything resembling breakfast that wasn't just a muffin

I'm just not going to patronize a business solely on principle, and I don't think businesses should be banned solely on priniciple.
posted by desjardins at 2:24 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


When some of the big chain stores - like Sears and Liberty House - moved into town here, there were concerns that they'd put the local retailers out of business. They largely did.

Then Walmart and Target moved in and put Sears and Liberty House out of business.

I am expecting that in ten years, both Walmart and Target will be put out of business by some large chain that is largely automated or staffed by prisoners or slaves.

On the positive side, the products will be cheap.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:27 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


if there coffee was as good as Starbucks, I meant
posted by desjardins at 2:27 PM on August 17, 2012


No, because it will be supported by tourists.

I didn't realize Totnes was a tourism destination, but it seems like you may be right now that I've looked into it a bit more. Still, most of the tourist towns I've been to have numerous independent shops that fair quite well even when multinational chains are present. I mean, sure, the Starbucks in Banff is always busy, but so are the dozen independent coffeehouses. It's not just the locals supporting the independents, considering that the locals are significantly outnumbered by tourists and transient worker for most of the year.
posted by asnider at 2:30 PM on August 17, 2012


This is great.

It's not that people want chains - they just use them if they're there, or that they have more leverage for advertising and promotion. It's wrong to mistake use for demand, which I've seen a lot of already on this thread.

I partly operate out of a part of a city with nearby porn stores with freeholds longer than my lifetime. I used to find it a little distasteful until someone pointed out that their presence precluded the invasion of chain stores like costa, tesco and greggs. The result is an amazingly vibrant part of town with its own culture, unique businesses and venues. Chain stores are insidious on many levels; instead of owners and regular staff, the local community is instead populated by transitory shift workers who aren't as invested in enhancing the area, or are even able to take initiatives or respond to the local landscape.

One of the bleakest aspects of the UK is the homogeneity of its towns and cities, particularly smaller towns which are dominated by chains. It's not that your local town will have a bakery, they'll have a Greggs. Regional variation has been eliminated in favour of market forces racing to establish a lowest common denominator.

The Space Hijackers (the Official Protestors of the 2012 Olympic Games ) have been actively on the case for a long time, with a sense of humour.

Power to you, Totnes.
posted by davemee at 2:35 PM on August 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


There's a Costa roasting place in Vauxhall, near where I work, so often the air will be full of the smell of burning coffee.

One problem with big chains is that they can bear an extended period of loss in order to hold out against the weaker local competition. Other than that, what davemee said.
posted by Grangousier at 2:39 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's not that people want chains - they just use them if they're there, or that they have more leverage for advertising and promotion

What evidence do you have for this? Plenty of people prefer chain stores to independents. Both have their appeal. Aside from the obvious benefit of "you know what you're getting" with chains, sometimes they simply have the better product (as in desjardin's comment).

It's far from universal to prefer non-chain stores, I realize some people have strong feelings about them but it's incorrect to think that everyone shares your view.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't you want as much as possible of the money you spend to stay in your community, as opposed to being sent to away to owners? No-one maintains that a small community can produce all of the wonderful things we enjoy, but keep it local if you can.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:41 PM on August 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's not that people want chains - they just use them if they're there

What? That's a questionable claim with little justification.

The community in Totnes is quite welcome to refuse to peruse Costa Coffee. The community is quite welcome to use local zoning law to discourage business development in general. I take offense to portions of the community suggesting vandalism to run a business out of town. I take even more offense when a portion of the community attempts to define what businesses the rest of the community can enjoy. Again, if there was consensus in Totnes that Costa Coffee wasn't worth building, then Costa Coffee would not be built (due to lack of a clientele), and if it were built, it would promptly fail. Said logic along suggests to me the activists/vandals in the article are in a distinct minority in Totnes.

Don't you want as much as possible of the money you spend to stay in your community

I could really care less where my money goes, provided I get what I want in exchange for it.
posted by saeculorum at 2:44 PM on August 17, 2012


One of the bleakest aspects of the UK is the homogeneity of its towns and cities, particularly smaller towns which are dominated by chains. It's not that your local town will have a bakery, they'll have a Greggs. Regional variation has been eliminated in favour of market forces racing to establish a lowest common denominator.

Is this unique to towns of a certain size? I ask because, while I know that this isn't a uniquely UK phenomenon, I don't see this issue much in my experience with small towns in Canada.* The local grocery store may be part of a chain (though it is usually independently owned and operated), and perhaps the hardware store will be, but there are rarely any chain restaurants or coffeeshops until the town gets big enough to support them. Once they hit that size, yes, suddenly you've got McDonalds and Tim Hortons, but below a certain threshold, small towns seem to remain their uniqueness if only because they don't have the population base to support large corporations. It would be interesting to know what that threshold is and whether or not it varies depending on the type of businesses involved.

*I'm specifically talking about Western Canada, but this also seems to apply to Yukon and Newfoundland, based on my travels.
posted by asnider at 2:45 PM on August 17, 2012


I am expecting that in ten years, both Walmart and Target will be put out of business by some large chain that is largely automated or staffed by prisoners or slaves.

Don't forget about the robots.
posted by Area Man at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2012


They want a local shop for local people, there's nothing for you here!
posted by The Whelk at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is this unique to towns of a certain size?

Gregg's has 1,500 shops in a country the half the size of Alberta. That's an incredible retail density. And Gregg's is in no way unique.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


(for the record, Transition Towns like Totnes are mainly populated by people who couldn't care a fig about capitalism or competition so accusing them of some sort of local protectionism and failure to accept the laws of the market isn't exactly something they'd consider a reproach)
posted by Marauding Ennui at 2:59 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't you want as much as possible of the money you spend to stay in your community, as opposed to being sent to away to owners? No-one maintains that a small community can produce all of the wonderful things we enjoy, but keep it local if you can.
Yes, I do, and I actively involve myself in helping that happen. I worry though about making a planning department the chooser of what is "local" and what is not. McDonald's isn't local, it's not even from England. Gregg's is local, to England (well, north of England), but not local to my town. Curtis's are local to my shire, but still a pretty big chain when all said and done. Mundey's is local to my town for over 100 years, but there was a time when even old man Mundey wasn't a local, even if that was the 1880s. It's hard for an individual to know what is local or not, and I don't think we can set anybody up to split one from the other.
posted by Jehan at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gregg's has 1,500 shops in a country the half the size of Alberta. That's an incredible retail density.

It occurs to me, as you point this out, that my points of reference include some of the least densely populated parts of the country (if not the world). That may explain why I'm having a bit of a tough time wrapping my head around some of the specific factors at play here (never mind the inherent uniqueness of a place like Totnes).
posted by asnider at 3:02 PM on August 17, 2012


I've always wondered how many locations a store or restaurant has to have before it becomes an evil chain. Also, is it okay to visit the home store or original location of a chain because in that one location it is local?
posted by Area Man at 3:06 PM on August 17, 2012


Chain stores are insidious on many levels; instead of owners and regular staff, the local community is instead populated by transitory shift workers who aren't as invested in enhancing the area, or are even able to take initiatives or respond to the local landscape.

What is this nonsense? I'm on a first-name basis with Sbux baristas in the neighborhood I work and the neighborhood I live in;, the latter opens itself to music groups from the neighborhood, serves as a meeting place for our neighborhood council, and participates in the neighborhood festival every year. (The other store isn't in a neighborhood many people actually live in).

Starbucks and the like have the exact same incentives local businesses do to "enhance the area" and "respond to the local landscape".
posted by downing street memo at 3:12 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I see Official Olympics Sponsors put on nationwide advertising campaigns, downing street memo, but I've never seen Burger King make a special showing in the area's street parties. I do see the independents organise those parties, though. Maybe it's different in the US.
posted by davemee at 3:29 PM on August 17, 2012


I could really care less where my money goes, provided I get what I want in exchange for it.

So, to take that to its conclusion, whether the money goes to Doctors without Borders, or to Russian Gangsters, it's all one to you?
posted by tyllwin at 3:33 PM on August 17, 2012


So, to take that to its conclusion, whether the money goes to Doctors without Borders, or to Russian Gangsters, it's all one to you?

If I wanted my money to go to Doctors Without Borders, I'd donate to Doctors Without Borders. I find the idea of expecting charity from local business owners to be more than a bit bizarre and convoluted (mostly I think people use it as an excuse to not donate money themselves and still claim moral superiority).

I'm not going to say I'd support a business associated with the mafia, but I have a feel if they were, I wouldn't know about it.
posted by saeculorum at 3:38 PM on August 17, 2012


It's not that people want chains - they just use them if they're there, or that they have more leverage for advertising and promotion

Oh this is total rubbish. I've chosen Costa over an independent on many occasions, because they're anonymous (so no-one cares if I stay for hours and write), there's more space for me to spread out my papers, more comfortable chairs, and the coffee is utterly mediocre rather than completely undrinkable. I've often also chosen sandwich chains like Pret because they have a reliable vegetarian offering.

I'm no fan of chains either, and the eerily homogeneous look of the British high street, and I prefer independent places wherever possible. But this Althusserian notion that Costa's customers are mindless zombies mesmerised by capitalist jingles is just silly.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:49 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Starbucks and the like have the exact same incentives local businesses do to "enhance the area" and "respond to the local landscape".

Starbucks and Costa and the like have the exact same financial incentives as the local businesses do to enhance the area.

They do not have the exact same personal, social, and political incentives to enhance the area and respond to the landscape.

The steady pressure we feel to reduce all of our interactions to monetary exchange is among Capitalism's more insidious ideological tools.
posted by notyou at 3:50 PM on August 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


What is different in the US is that a lot of towns and smaller cities, especially suburbs, are very new. They haven't had time to build any unique local culture. And so you get these Main Street USA corporate "downtown-esque environment" developments instead of any organic commercial center.

If you've grown up with that and lived there all your life, it doesn't seem controversial that the only place to get coffee is Starbucks, the only restaurants are Applebee's and Olive Garden, the only clothing store is Old Navy, the only bookshop is Barnes & Noble, etc. It wouldn't occur to you that businesses like that would have any role to play in the community, or that the role they do play is anything other than right and natural. So people get outrageously excited about things like B&N throwing a Harry Potter release party, or Applebee's giving a free order of chicken fingers to kids who participate in the local spelling bee. They think, "wow, this is what community is all about!" They don't have anything to compare it to.

Communities that do have something to compare it to and have strong local economies and people who are politically aware tend to at least try to put a leash on big chains.
posted by Sara C. at 3:53 PM on August 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


I read about this a while ago - can't remember where now - where people said they didn't want Costa as it would attract 'chavs'. Why they think people on low incomes would happily pay £3 for a coffee, I'm not sure.

There is a certain snobbish undertone here, one which sometimes does appear in those who wish to reject certain aspects of capitalism. Minimalist bloggers look down on those who have what they see as unnecessary possessions, yet they spend enough time thinking about and curating what they own to be able to make a point of pride out of having only enough glasses for two. It's almost a nimbyism, where the few get to decide what is best for the many.

I grew up somewhere with few chain stores, which sounds great but if you're a teenager and you want to go somewhere to meet friends that isn't McDonalds, or you want to buy a book from Waterstones or an independent music album from HMV and you have to take a train to do it, it becomes very dispiriting. I dislike the homogeniety of Britain as much as anyone - and find the fungus-like growth of Pret and Tesco Express verging on sinister - but because of this it was always exciting to go to somewhere that had Starbucks and Gap and Topshop and be able to access all this stuff people talked about in newspapers and which I saw in magazines.

Since I left home, some chains have set up in my home town and left quickly, not because people were opposed to them but because it was an area with little disposable income where people would not choose to buy an expensive coffee or a book or a £12 scarf. If nobody in Totnes really wants Costa - not the people who are moved to campaign, but the silent majority who will make their views known through the money in their wallets - then it will go the same way.
posted by mippy at 4:03 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never seen Burger King make a special showing in the area's street parties. I do see the independents organise those parties, though. Maybe it's different in the US.

Yeah, it is. It's very common for large businesses to at least partially sponsor local festivals. This one is sponsored by Miller Brewing, a national chain restaurant, and several statewide chains.
posted by desjardins at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2012


Jehan: It's hard for an individual to know what is local or not, and I don't think we can set anybody up to split one from the other.

That's a good point. It's a spectrum, not either/or, and who should be allowed to set up opposition isn't obvious.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2012


Costa sponsors a major book prize - the one that used to be the Whitbread (their parent company). Not really the same thing as sponsoring community events, which isn't so common here.
posted by mippy at 4:38 PM on August 17, 2012


Why would they object? Are they perhaps people who fear a competitor? Who want to use the planning system to prevent a competitor entering their market? Who want to deny their fellow subjects a better product? Who can't compete with Costa, so want to use political pressure to avoid having to do so? Looks like it.

You are underestimating the ability and willingness of chains to use political and economic pressure for their own advantage, including but not limited to:(Fun fact: you the consumer are supposed to tally up all your relevant online purchases at the end of the year and pay the sales taxes yourself if the retailer didn't collect it! Do any consumers really bother to do this or the IRS etc bother to police it? Nooooooo.)

Minor but obnoxious anecdotal example: there are many reasons why the independent bookstores I worked for died / were killed by chains and Amazon, but one example that really didn't help was about supply. You see, most books have a "publication date"--which is a rough estimate of the date that the publisher hopes to have the book available at all retailers, though thanks to the whims of shipping some stores will get their books to put out for sale earlier or later than other stores.

But the major, eagerly anticipated books--like Harry Potter on down, books that going to sell LOTS of copies to LOTS of people who want them Now Now Now--those get publisher "laydown dates" of "it doesn't matter if you get your books early, if you sell them before this date there will be SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES, here's-the-anonymous-hotline-to-report-sales-embargo-violations consequences." The idea being is someone sells the book early, that store will get ALL the early business until they run out and leave the other unhappy stores with nothing and unhappier with the publisher, and the publisher will lose the concentrated widespread sales that push books onto bestseller lists. So laydowns level the playing field, build anticipation, and sell more books. Everybody wins!

Except that laydowns are bullshit because chains regularly negotiate to not have them or just-flat out ignore them. "What are you going to do, report me to the publisher hotline?" The same publisher that already cut huge discount deals with this chain to get their books into the thousands of the chain's stores and online customer bases across the world? Sure, report that violation, see how that wrist-slap goes!

Okay then, the indie stores should just sell the books early too! That's a great plan, except that we almost never get our books on time for laydown, because the publisher's big shipping push is going toward getting books out to chains. So the one little store calling with "where the fuck is my box of twenty books" gets pushed down the priority list as Walmart calls to order another 2000 copies for Warehouse #23.

I remember one of my bookstores when a Twilight book with laydown was coming out the next day and we still hadn't gotten our books. My manager finally went "FUCK THIS," drove to a Target that was holding a "'midnight release' that really started at 6PM" party, and bought like 30 copies for less than we'd have paid the publisher for them. We sold all 30 the next day. Our "priority Twilight shipment" from the publisher arrived three weeks later. Thanks, capitalism!
posted by nicebookrack at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Fun fact: you the consumer are supposed to tally up all your relevant online purchases at the end of the year and pay the sales taxes yourself if the retailer didn't collect it"

Not relevant in the UK - tax is included in the price charged at point of sale, whether online or otherwise. It's not as straightforward as that makes it sound - you have to pay VAT on food if you eat in but not if you take it away, and I think hot food might be chargeable but cold isn't, but you'll pay your 20% there and then. I found it really odd when I went to the US and found that everything in the store was more expensive when you took it to the till. The corporate tax is a hot-button issue here though - usually companies registering abroad.

the loss-leader argument makes perfect sense when it comes to supermarkets - I'm well familiar with the constraints and dependencies their supply chains create - but I'm not sure how this will work with regard to Costa. Totnes is not a poor town. They have a tourist trade, and a very middle-class populace, and there will be no shortage whatsoever of coffee shops charging £3 or so for a cappuccino to sit in. Just as in poorer places where going to Starbucks or Gap is seen as a sign of being cool, knowing what brand is good, or having money to spend, in places like Totnes being able to spend a little more on a coffee or a cake is seen as a good thing, as something that the discerning person will do. (I would be absolutely staggered if Totnes did not, for example, have a branch of Waitrose rather than a Tesco.) A matter of taste. If the chain coffee shop cuts their prices, it's just another sign that they Are Not Our Sort.

Where I grew up, there were two independent bookstores and one chain, WH Smith. The independent ones closed, a discount bookstore then opened selling remainders (part of a chain) and the chain bookstore shrunk to the point where you could buy nothing that wasn't in the top 10. It wasn't the fault of the chainstore, it was that people just didn't really read much. That or they preferred the library/charity shop. There was no advantage for the chainstore, they were just chasing after the same small market, and the chainstore unfortunately was the one with the financial leverage to weather it. Now Amazon means they themselves are feeling the pinch.
posted by mippy at 5:02 PM on August 17, 2012


The only towns who have not fallen victim are too small for chain delivery trucks or have protective zoning legislation.

Or aren't profitable enough. Years ago I read that the main signs that your area (I presume they meant London here, where every ';neighbourhood' tends to have its own high-street) is seen as affluent for property buyers if it houses a Waterstones, a Starbucks and a Gap. Chains move into where they'll make money. In my home town of 100,000 or so, none of these chains have moved in, nor will you find them in Greenford or Manor House or Longsight or Leith or Cheetham Hill, or other poorer or more immigrant-community dominated areas of cities. (On the local area forum, people often complain about certain parts of the borough 'changing unrecogniseably' - what they mean is that immigrant communities have opened 'foreign' shops and businesses which serve that community ie. the people who actually live there and need them, and they don't like it.)
posted by mippy at 5:07 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I swear there's a Starbucks in Cheetham Hill, at the top end near the synagogue.
posted by Jehan at 5:15 PM on August 17, 2012


I've not lived there for seven years so you're probably right. I just remember the difference between the main road there, and the one in East Didsbury.
posted by mippy at 5:20 PM on August 17, 2012


Yeah, I should've added "you the U.S. consumer" to those points in my rant, mippy. Though I predict Amazon.co.uk is just as keen to avoid all possible taxes as its U.S. counterpart.

Indie coffee shops and other restaurants/businesses that create their own stuff have an arguable advantage over retailers like bookstores: the more expensive coffee bought in the indie place can thrive by being tastier and better quality than the Costa coffee, but Twilight will be the same book wherever you buy it, so its point of sale has no snobbery cachet. Though I am sure that my last indie bookstore lasted as surprisingly long as we did because we were located in a wealthy neighborhood of American young upper-middle-class hippie-hipsters who pride themselves on cultivating Independent Local Business Character and like having their Offbeat Little Underground Stores that only the coolest people know about and shop at with their eco-friendly bags. And they were charming, lovely, loyal customers who loved books, I'm not sneering at them at all, but my bookstore absolutely played the "Shop here, be cool and stick it to THE MAN!" card all we could. (The problem with getting the coolest customers is that there's only a limited number of cool people to go around.)
posted by nicebookrack at 5:24 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, I'm thinking about 5 or 6 years ago, when I lived in Besses o' th' Barn and used to travel through Cheetham Hill regularly. Maybe I'm thinking of something lame like Subway, or getting it mixed up with Prestwich. But yeah, your point is right anyway, Cheetham Hill isn't like some of the southern suburbs for retail because there's simply not enough money there. If there is a Venn diagram of retail, the circles representing Iceland, Jack Fulton's, and Tony's Textiles don't overlap significantly with Starbucks and Gap.
posted by Jehan at 5:31 PM on August 17, 2012


Twilight...has no snobbery cachet.

I know I edited your meaning a bit, but I still find ir a comforting phrase.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:13 PM on August 17, 2012


Eh, fuck capitalism. Local capitalism is just barely less worse than any other kind, I guess.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:35 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I lived in a small town in Ohio for seven years that was pretty successful at keeping big corporate chains out of the town. Their miracle solution? Don't spend money at the establishment. There's an eyeglasses store in the building where the KFC/Taco Bell tried to be.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:04 PM on August 17, 2012


I could really care less where my money goes, provided I get what I want in exchange for it.
posted by saeculorum


Well, so long as you care a little bit, more than nothing, that's a start.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I honestly don't understand the movement among towns and cities to ban chains. If the town doesn't want it, if it lacks popular support, won't it just die?

Probably not once it's there. It might take a lot of willpower, once it's there, to keep yourself from going in, people at the fringes would go and that would redefine where the fringes of support/objection lie, etc.

Remember, No one makes you shop at Wal-Mart!
posted by kenko at 7:50 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a great discussion. Ultimately I decided to come down on the side of the citizens. It just feels better. And while I think a company like Starbucks does make an effort to be less evil, there are plenty of other markets for them. The problem with local businesses, from casual observation, is that they are often poorly run and mismanaged. It seems like a lot of small business owners really shouldn't be running one. There are only a handful of locally owned food shops around me, and one of them is run by a complete asshole who screams at his employees. Another has terrible decor and filthy bathrooms. Another I've witnessed employees dumping black soapy water into the storm drain, maybe 5 miles from the ocean. All anecdotal, I know, but still.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:45 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


George Bailey: "No, but you...you...you're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the coffee back in a carafe. The, the coffee's not here. Well, your coffee's in Joe's mug... that's right next to yours. And in the Kennedy travel mug, and Mrs. Macklin's cup of chai, and, and a hundred others."
posted by Cassford at 12:07 AM on August 18, 2012


I went to a Costa Coffee in Heathrow airport as they had seemed ubiquitous everywhere in the UK and made strong claims. I had a mocha latte, perhaps not their strong suit: it was over-sweet, tasted like they had put cream in it. The coffee was bland, the chocolate taste nonexistent. I didn't finish it. However perhaps I was jaded as I'd just come back from France where I'd been staying with a family who served me espresso every morning.

Costa's blandness reflected the same challenge I had buying great quality chocolate in London. Living in Montreal all chocolate was excellent. In London, Kensington & Notting Hill, I was trying samples and extremely disappointed with the bland grainy stuff the adoring shopkeepers were advocating.
posted by niccolo at 12:32 AM on August 18, 2012


I grew up in a suburb of Vancouver which always non-controversially managed business zoning in a similar way. Simply put, if the council didn't want you there, you weren't going to set up shop. They rejected McDonalds and infamously expelled a 7-11 due to its attracting an unfavorable clientele. They did allow a Starbucks, though. I have no problem whatsoever with this kind of municipal governance; in my opinion this is exactly the kind of government we need more of: local, responsive, and accountable.

It's amusing to read this thread in light of how MeFi treats Walmart. Apparently coffee chains are inherently more benign, because, coffee.
posted by mek at 12:38 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


niccolo - where did you go? I've heard good things about Paul A Young, and while Hotel Chocolat is a chain and really flipping expensive, their white chocolate is nice.

I like chocolate that's so dark it's virtually licorice, though. Even Tesco or Sainsbury's will sell you an 85% cocoa bar, and Green and Black's is lovely.

In Reading there's a crossroads with Starbucks on one side, Costa on another, Pret and what was once Coffee Republic on the third, and the independent Workhouse Coffee on the fourth. I've never had a disappointing cake or coffee at Workhouse. Though Pret's Vanilla Chai is so good that I am tempted to get a job in one so I can pinch a box. (I'd get fired, but at least I'd have lovely vanilla loveliness.)
posted by mippy at 2:36 AM on August 18, 2012


I honestly don't understand the movement among towns and cities to ban chains. If the town doesn't want it, if it lacks popular support, won't it just die?

No, because even if the town residents don't want it, the tourists don't care. If there is a Costa, they will go to it. There are 7,500 residents in Totnes. There are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the tourists.

The fear - and given almost every other high street in the UK, it's a valid fear - is that you start with a Costa and soon Totnes is a Costa, a McDonalds, Dorothy Perkins, Tesco Express, Poundland and oh yeah, one castle and an old rock. At that point, there will be no tourists because Quaint Traditional and Historic Devon Town's high street will have been eaten by soulless chains.

The towns that are thriving and holding on to their unique appeal, independent stores, and the tourist trade that supports the actual residents, are towns like York which has a York Civic Trust and a Local Development Framework to strictly guide zoning and planning in line with York's heritage. They are not without failures and opposition but York has defended against chain creep for a long time where Totnes has fallen at the first volley.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:48 AM on August 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I should've added "you the U.S. consumer" to those points in my rant, mippy. Though I predict Amazon.co.uk is just as keen to avoid all possible taxes as its U.S. counterpart.

Amount made in sales by Amazon UK in last three years: £7 billion
Amount paid in corporation tax in the UK by Amazon UK in last three years: £0

amazon UK is actually a company based in Luxembourg for the purposes of sales and dodging tax. The 'UK' company which warehouses and ships all the goods isn't really the company we pay. Taxes are for little people.
posted by reynir at 12:39 PM on August 18, 2012


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