August 29, 2012

Costa comes to town.

Lower Slaughter, EnglandThere's been some consternation in the village.

Let me explain. I live in a village which was recently voted "Best Place to live in Britain". It's one of those places with a nice little village green, duck pond, and a main street that is packed with small shops all run by local people. We don't have any chains here (in fact when Tesco wanted to come in and open an 'express' outlet in a pub building, it was successfully knocked on the head).

Down the main street we have a top-end bed shop, an antique shop, a local estate agent, an art gallery, a vet, a butcher, an off license, a family-run jewellers, and a small cafe. The main shop is a 'One Stop' that incorporates the post office.

It's all very genteel. Cricket is played on the green every weekend during the summer and the first Saturday in June is always the village fete, which has lots of small stalls, food and a ring where we parade classic cars and the like through for the adulation of the crowd.

What I'm trying to get across is the fact that it isn't a conurbation, a suburb, a town or even - god forbid - a metropolis. It's a small village on the A30 which has tried to remain as much like a small village as possible. As I mentioned earlier it got noticed. The people who decide these things marked it is the nicest place to live in the country, we are proud of that - especially as we took the crown from the reigning champion of three years.

But recently there has appeared a blot on the landscape.

Let me explain. The nearest 'town' is about three miles away. It is quite a bit larger than our village. It has a long main street, shopping centre, lots of chains (Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys, MacDonalds, Starbucks etc.) and it has suffered during the recession having many empty shops and the subsequent invasion of the charity shop outlets along the main street. It has gone the way of many of the towns in the country.

Out village isn't like that. We don't have empty shops. We are thriving. There is a sense of community in the village. Just about everyone knows everyone else. We are all waiting in anticipation and fingers crossed on the outcome of a good friend's cancer treatment. We know where the young married couple are going on honeymoon and we wish them the best in their marriage. It's that kind of place.

Recently, however, a dark cloud has loured over our village. For a short while now there has been one empty shop along the main street. It used to be an off licence, but they just weren't getting the business from the community. It's probably because the established off license was so good and the guy who runs it knows everyone's name. It went out of business a couple of years ago. The shop has remained empty since then as we wondered who was going to take over it. With the breadth of shops that we already had, we didn't really think there was a business that could come in and fill a gap. We didn't need clothes shops, cafes, sweet shops or travel agents. What would fill the gap?

We recently got to find out. A planning application went in to the council for permission to put movable temporary seating outside the premises, and word got out that it was one of the chains.

It was.

Costa Coffee had moved into the village. There was outrage. "It's the thin end of the wedge" people shouted. "Let them in and soon we'll have KFC, MacDonalds and Pizza Hut. We will no longer be the best place in Britain to live.". The complaints were many. But nobody actually did anything other than complain. We couldn't actually stop anyone from moving in because we didn't have a legitimate complaint.

So Costa arrived.

And, do you know what? It's great. I'm sitting in here now, typing this. And it's busy. It was busy when I came in the other day to see what was happening. The seats are full and there's a queue waiting for their drinks. Despite the fact that people were complaining about them moving in, there doesn't seem to be a boycott of the place. Of course, the other cafe in the village will probably have a problem. But at the end of the day that's a cafe and this is a coffee shop. I see the clientele as being completely different.
Is this the thin end of the wedge? I don't think so. Despite what I said earlier about not having chains here, we have two of the four high street banks already. Nobody complained about them. On top of that there is no room for any of the other chains to come and take over - unless one of the shops on the main street goes out of business, that is. At the end of the day I don't see the village become a 'generic' high street like so many of the nearby towns have become.

I may be proven wrong, but we'll see.