Are chains REALLY a bad thing ?


I am a very much “live and let live” kind of person, I have also never lived in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone or more importantly…… Can spot an ‘outsider’ from across the street.

Today I experienced this feeling of not fitting in.  Not because I have a visual impairment, not because I have a guide dog, but because I went into the wrong shop.

So…. Lets talk about coffee !!

As I have commented on many a time before, I like my coffee.  Both of my guide dogs quickly learnt to recognise a Costa or Starbucks at 100m.

Not because they have the best coffee, but because I could walk in and find myself in a place I have been a thousand times before; even if I had never ACTUALLY stepped foot inside THAT particular store.

Love it or hate it, you can walk into a Starbucks in Southampton and it will be pretty much the same as a Starbucks on the other side of the world….. And it is this ‘familiarity’ that helps me so much.

I enjoy sitting with friends over coffee and when I do, we often go to a little independent tea room or cafe.  But, when I am on my own and ‘just after a coffee’, it is the chain coffee shops that I seek out.

Two reasons;

Firstly, whether it be Costa, Nero or Starbucks…..There is a mobile site (or an app) which I can easily access on my phone to find their locations, especially if I am in unfamiliar areas.

Secondly, I am unable to drink cows milk, so for me a coffee comes with a soya twist.  Even in a time of many a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free society, not ALL cafes offer an alternative.

So, I can walk into any one of the hundreds, if not thousands of Costa Coffee shops or Starbucks (N.B other brands and chains are available!) And know that my Large Soya Latte, Extra Shot to take away will be made with ease by a barista that has a separate metal jug, just for such ‘fussy’ people like me who won’t have cows milk!

Long gone are my days of being able to stand looking at the board for ideas of different coffees, It is why I always agree to having the ‘special’ or ‘seasonal’ coffee blend if it is offered to me … And with Starbucks in particular I can walk in, sit down and order my drink through the app being as picky and fussy with EVERY SINGLE ingredient that goes into it….. Knowing that I’m 6-9 minutes the barista will be calling out my name to let me know my drink is ready !!

That is the beauty of the Chain Store for me; for my love of technology, for the simplicity of similarity and in turn for the feeling of comfort that a ‘One on every corner’ kind of coffee shop can offer I am all for them.

I do not feel that they are taking away the beauty of our villages, town and cities….. They should be there to enhance them.  Coffee shops are to the ‘Teenies’ what Whetherspoons were to the ‘Nineties’, it is bringing a product to the masses; and in turn, bringing the masses to the villages and towns.

And it is for this reason that I will not be apologising for my support of the chain coffee shop.  Because, when I found myself in a small, unfamiliar town, it was just the comfort I needed.  It was with the clear “Find Costa” command that I have my faithful fizz that I was able to feel in control, I was able to concentrate on using my sight to browse amongst the independent shops, to concentrate on navigating the narrow paths.

And it is also what will see me return…. Being made to feel like an outsider is an all too familiar a feeling to me and just as I am stubborn when someone singles me out because of my sight or my guide dog, I will be stubborn about the person who told me “You are ruining our community with your fancy Latte and wifi, we don’t want your kind here.”

I know that the medieval town of Bishops Waltham like to keep their community a community, and in 2012 when the idea of a Costa Coffee moving in first emerged, there was a great deal of local protest. (Link below)

But four years later?

There are several other independent coffee shops and cafes who all appeared busy on this lovely sunny September Monday, surely there is enough custom for everyone? Without the need to single out people for the choices they make over who they go to for a “fancy latte” ???



Hampshire Chronicle article posted 15.02.2012

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