Don’t get me wrong; I like Costa Coffee. Or rather, I like the coffee they make. I think the “flat white” is a rather good invention (and I wish I knew how to make the fancy leaf shaped pattern in the froth). But – and it’s a big but – I don’t like having a Costa Coffee shop where I live in Lyme Regis.
In the past two years, four chain-store outlets have opened in Broad Street: Costa Coffee, WH Smith, Tesco, and Pasty Presto (Cornish Pasties). We don’t need any of them; we already have a full complement of local tea and coffee shops, a couple of good bookshops, a perfectly serviceable Co-op supermarket, and enough Dorset pasties on sale to feed an army.
Lyme Regis is more like a favourite maiden aunt with a twinkle in her eye and a sly sense of humour than a kiss-me-quick woman of easy virtue. It is Jane Austen, the Jurassic Coast, the Cobb and the Undercliff, boutique shops and B&B’s, that make it worth coming to – not the dubious attraction of well-known brands and chain-stores. How many more of them can we take (four is already too many) before the town loses the unique and quirky character that make it such a popular holiday destination?
The argument against them coming to Lyme Regis is both aesthetic and economic. Not only are they bland (and bland will be the death of us) they suck revenue away from local traders, and the profits they make go to distant shareholders rather than feeding the local economy. “But we are creating jobs,” they say. Are they, I wonder? If there is some truth in this claim, what sorts of job (and under what conditions) are being created?
Not only are these interlopers not needed, they are a thoroughly bad thing for the town. Retail guru, Mary Portas speaks of the “death of the high street” and this – combined with large out of town stores – is how it happens. I’ve no doubt that we’ll be told the council could do nothing to stop them. But it can be done. Totnes has managed to resist Costa Coffee; did we even put up a fight?
Keep such chain-store outlets where they belong: garages, motorway service areas, airports, mainline railway stations – places where predictable products and speedy service are welcome and the environment is already so bland that they could not make it worse.
Make no mistake, we’ll get the town that we deserve. We must support our local shops if we want them to prosper: have our tea and coffee at Amid Giants and Idols; buy our books from Serendip; pick up our groceries from the Co-op (not strictly local I grant you but at least its profits are shared); munch on Dorset pasties in Dorset and save the other ones for elsewhere.