Malice In Chains: Quirky British Town Queens Out On Costa Cafe

The city of Totnes, a sort of Santa Cruz / Olympia / Burlington mash-up located in the United Kingdom, is TOTES not okay with Great Britain’s largest coffee chain setting up shop in their Crunchy Free Zone. They signed petitions and marched and everything! But Costa Coffee is unassuaged, and will soon be bringing their franchised cafe services to Totnes’ main shopping district, despite the fact that like 3/4 of the people in Totnes are throwing an outright fit about the whole thing.

The town of Totnes (population: 7,444) already has 41 coffee shops, making this new Costa location the 42nd. In our unsolicited amateur business journalistic opinion, it is very unlikely that the 42nd coffee shop in Totnes is going to put the other 41 out of business, unless they’re all just terrible, in which case, you all deserve each other’s tepid company.

You might be saying, “what’s the big whoop? why even feature this?“, and you’d be right, except for the fact that it has been a very, very last 36 hours in the global news cycle, and so this story has been picked up by EVERYONE: Huffington Post via BoingBoing via The Guardian via The Official No To Costa Web Site, but props go to The Telegraph, whose headline defeats all the rest: “Coffee Wars: No One Makes A Mocha-ry Of Totnes”:

The small and ancient Devonshire town set on the river Dart has 41 establishments where you can buy a coffee, and when it was announced the other day that there was to be a 42nd, they sort of snapped.

It wasn’t that they didn’t want another coffee shop — they are mad for the stuff, clearly — it was that they objected to it being part of a chain. It was Costa, in this case, though it could have been Starbucks or Caffè Nero. You see, the town prides itself, quite rightly, on having a distinctive character. All its other coffee shops are independents, with names such as Totnes People’s Cafe, Food For Thought and The Curator Café.

That’s the thing about Totnes. It is known as “the alternative capital” because its citizens are free spirits. The word “eco” often crops up in connection with the town. As does “meditation workshop”. And the building which Costa is to take over was occupied by Greenlife Organic Wholefoods – so popular it needed larger premises. The proximity of Dartington College has made the place something of a cultural mecca — book and arts events, people expressing themselves through the medium of dance.

Blah blah blah…so Totnes has a lot of beef with a chain coming to town, and since they’re considered England’s quirky little crunchy hamlet of choice, and Damon Albarn owns a house there, people are actually paying attention. Repelling successful chain stores takes some doing, and it usually happens organically as a result of major missteps by the company itself – like opening shops in New Orleans without a chicory offering (*ahem* Starbucks) or opening multi-million dollar shops in Moscow without offering sushi or knowing whom to bribe (*ahem* Starbucks). But what will make or break the Totnes Resistance Front, or whatever, is if these protestor types have the ability to stay strong, or if they wind up being first in line when Costa opens for business, snatching up paninis, lattes, and biscuits with the alacrity of a small child scarfing a Walnut Whip. 

We bet you Damon Albarn loves a good toastie.

Do you think Totnes is totes right? Or do you think shaming a successful business (in this economy) is the reason our global recession continues to poop itself? Is it cool to hate on chain cafes? Is Costa coffee the devil? Should we all just get over ourselves for five seconds and enjoy a nice Walnut Whip? Sound off in the comments below! 

Comments

  1. says

    Totnes actually has its own currency and a thriving bohemian community. In some ways it’s quintessentially English (bookshops /tea-rooms) and in others it’s right-on radical. Many artists have made it their home – not just Damon from Blur. However, most Brits (myself included) are fed up with the homogenisation of our beloved High Streets. “Enough already” as I believe you say on that side of ‘the pond’.

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