English seaside town with no chain coffee shops fights off Costa Coffee incursion

The Guardian's John Harris looks at the battle taking place in the Devon town of Totnes, a kind of counterculture/hippie haven on the "English Riviera," where residents are furious at the plan to open an outlet of the Costa Coffee chain. Harris paints a picture of Totnes as the kind of place that would be pretty nice to live in: they issue their own currency that only works with local businesses, have a record store that puts the best music shops in Manhattan to shame, and have dozens of nice coffee shops where skilled baristas ply their trade -- like Portland, OR crossed with an English seaside village.

For Harris (and the Totnes residents with whom he speaks), the fight to keep Costa out of town is a microcosm for the fight against global capitalism, and the triumph of profits and shareholder value over local community and mutual aid.

Totnes's local economy looks to be in reasonable health, which is surely down to the fact that it is about as far from being what we now call a "clone town" as could be imagined. The local record shop, Drift, is mind-bogglingly great: the kind of place that you'd think was amazing if you found it in New York. The quality and diversity of restaurants is amazing. Most pertinently, the town has 42 independently run outlets that serve coffee, and – so far – not a single branch of any of the big caffeine-selling multiples.

Now, though, Costa – whose most visible slogan remains "Saving the world from mediocre coffee" – is on its way, as part of programme of expansion that will look either worryingly aggressive or admirably ambitious, depending on your point of view. Certainly, it seems to be bucking the prevailing trend of our flatlining economy, opening scores of new outlets while independent coffee shops are truly feeling the pinch.

A fully owned subsidiary of the food and hospitality conglomerate Whitbread, it currently operates 1,400 British outlets, and recently announced plans for 350 more. Thanks also to a snowballing presence in petrol stations, pubs and motorway services, its logo is becoming inescapable, which is exactly the point: the chief executive, Andy Harrison, has talked about increasing the number of branches to 2,000, and thus making them ubiquitous. "People really don't want to walk very far for a coffee," he has said. "We can have them a couple of hundred yards apart on a really busy high street, then another at a retail park and another at the station."

Totnes: the town that declared war on global capitalism


  1. That’s not completely true, they do have a chain store called WH Smith, I believe the biggest book store in the UK, similar to your Barnes & Noble in the states.


    So, their argument is poor and kind of lame.  Any organisation that wants to bring jobs to the town and support the local economy should be welcomed, this is just profit protection because they know people will try Costa Coffee because it’s delicious and they risk losing business.

    If these independent chains are so protective and secure in the market, let the store come, if the community rejects it the store will simply fail.

    1. The Totnes W H Smith is hardly reminiscent of a Barnes & Noble outlet and you misread somewhere that it is a coffee shop? It’s a book & media store.

      The post above limits the local only stance to coffeeshops, not chains in general but with a strong local preference in general for any kind of store.

      But hey, according to you the people of Totnes have no right or say in what is in their town, so fuck those people.

      1.  SekondaH is talking about Cory’s erroneous headline “..town with no chain shops..”.

        Totnes has a bunch of the usual suspects, but is far from being Clonetown, England.

      2. You’ve misread the entire thing apparently.  Merely stating the title is wrong.  That said WH Smith is similar to Barnes  & Noble I believe and has its own coffee shops in store.    But when the people of a town can forcibly crush a successful business then questions need to arise.

        There’s a difference between deforestation or ruining local landmarks, this is just elitism by a middle-upper class town.I’ll give you a scenario that happened in my country, ASDA (Walmart) wanted to open a store in a place called Antrim, it was going to be a megastore.  It would’ve provided 1200 jobs during one of the worst unemployment seasons we’ve ever had.  The economy would have been pumped full of cash and a group of 56 people came out and protested about the “aesthetics” being ruined.
        Suffice to say, the store was rejected by these mindless elected city counselors and the community at large lost out on affordable living and the unemployed youth lost out on a chance at starter jobs from the nearby college.  A sense of local pride does not belong in modern society, the idea of fear and loathing against anything successful puts people off business.

        If I go into business today and by luck become huge; become a massive multinational in three years because my product is so fantastic I’d have people like this saying “Oh evil, chain store! Not welcome!” My product is still excellent, it’s more affordable than ever and I’ve brought it to as many people as I can yet I am punished for it.Frankly, since you say fuck them, the people of Totnes can go fuck themselves if they are the type of elitist banner wavers that keep us in recession.

        1. Sorry but your post didn’t critique the title specifically and was dead wrong when considered within the context of the post. 

          As for the rest of what you wrote, you place the “economy” above all else, including individual and collective rights, and thereby I can’t agree with you. Especially given that you believe mega stores help local economies. They don’t, they subvert whatever there is and the jobs they provide are typically without future, benefits or a living wage. 

          But hey, good defense of an end to collective and individual rights. Why should a local government duly elected and citizenry have any say whatsoever when corporations clearly know what is best for them.

        2. Does Totnes need a Costa to stave off the collapse of its local economy? Doesn’t sound like it.

          Chain stores are better than nothing. However, they suck the money out of local communities. In a town with 42 independent coffee shops, there’s no need for them to be there at all, their presence will only be negative and the local people are quite right to tell them to sod off.

          In my parent’s village Tesco Express are forcing their way in against the wishes of the local population, and now apparently they’re trying to strong arm the village hall to take over their car park (currently open to everyone in the village centre) for private use.

          All they’ll end up doing is siphoning money out of the village and killing the locally owned and run competitors.  It’s bad for everyone except Tesco and they should not have been given planning permission.

          Chain stores are parasites and if there’s a local rival there’s no need for them at all.

        3. I’ll give you a scenario that happened in my country, ASDA (Walmart) wanted to open a store in a place called Antrim, it was going to be a megastore.  It would’ve provided 1200 jobs during one of the worst unemployment seasons we’ve ever had.  The economy would have been pumped full of cash and a group of 56 people came out and protested about the “aesthetics” being ruined.

          Completely implausible.  Walmart doesn’t put money INTO local economies, it pumps money OUT of local economies.  That’s what it’s done all over the USA.  You say it would have provided 1200 jobs — 1200 minimum wage, low-or-no-benefits jobs.  Meanwhile, the dozens of local businesses who would have suddenly found themselves competing with Walmart would have gone under one by one.  Locally run businesses circulate money within local economies rather than sending the money back to corporate.  The initial construction push might have flushed a bit of money in but it would all get sucked right back out. 

          You want to see what chain stores and megastores get you?  Here’s Route 28 in Salem, NH, USA.  Wander around a little.  Something like five miles of strip malls.  Can’t get anywhere without a car. 

          It’s not “elitism” to recognize that this kind of blight is bad for communities — Jane Jacobs was saying that back in what, 1968?  And I don’t think you can accuse her of being elitist — she was opposed to elitism in the form of urban planning (the sort of urban planning that would love to bulldoze a block of locally owned businesses to put in a Walmart).

          I think it’s “elitist” to presume to know what’s good or bad for a community better than the people who live there.

          1. Great comment, I’d also add that in exchange for setting up shop, that Wal-Mart demands a fortune in government handouts via corporate welfare.  So this notion of being “self made” and simply adding a ‘better product’ is all the more ludicrous.

            Good Jobs said it found published reports of 91 Wal-Mart stores having received tax refunds or credits, job training funds, community investment in roads and other subsidies ranging from $1 million to $12 million. The total was $245 million. In interviews with Good Jobs, local officials provided data indicating that 84 of Wal-Mart’s distribution centers received subsidies averaging $7.4 million, for a total of $624 million. And searches of databases for tax-exempt bonds issued by state and local authorities to provide low-interest financing found that such benefits to Wal-Mart cut $138 million off the cost of developing 69 stores.
            ”The actual total is certainly far higher but the records are scattered in thousands of places and many subsidies are undisclosed,” the report said.

            The report focused strictly on development subsidies. Critics of Wal-Mart say that wages in its stores are so low that many employees are eligible for food stamps and that lack of medical benefits leaves them dependent on taxpayer-financed medical services, which amounts to a large hidden subsidy.


          2. It’s about $14 per hour to work in an ASDA store and we have universal healthcare so require no benefits.  I understand your opinion can only be based on your local experiences within your own country but they do not apply to Northern Ireland.

          3. Umm, try responding to the other arguments then?  Chain stores don’t have good effects on communities.  They never do.  Find me even one story about a new ASDA location invigorating a local community.

            If you want Northern Ireland to look like the suburban wasteland that covers most of the USA then go ahead and build an ASDA in every town.  If you don’t regret it I’m pretty sure your children will.

        4. I put it to you, that a WH Smith’s in a small provincial town in south-west England is utterly unlike Barnes & Noble. A fact that, considering you are from Antrim, you are probably more than aware. And ‘a sense of local pride does not belong in modern society’? Haddaway and shite, pal. That’s up there with Maggie’s ‘There is no such thing as society’. I want to move to Totnes just to annoy you (and I hate the bloody beach).

    2.  Chain stores already enjoy unfair economic and political influence when they compete with small, local independents.  I support any town that choses to favor local workers and employers over national chains.  I would, in fact, like to see it legal for towns to completely ban outside ownership of businesses in the town.

      1. And also, ban imports of food and energy. And exports of waste.

        Maybe there’s a middle ground . . .

        1. Well as the birthplace of the transition movement Totnes could probably come close to that with some extra effort…

    3. “this is just profit protection because they know people will try Costa Coffee because it’s delicious and they risk losing business.”

      I have never ONCE been to an independent coffee shop and thought less of their coffee than a chain place.

      Although I agree with you for completely different reasons.  If they don’t want costa, then don’t buy their coffee.  Simple.  Then they’ll open and subsequently close within a matter of weeks or months because they have no customers.

      1. Costas knows that the tourists will visit, for the same reason they visit Mcdonalds. 

        Then the locals not only lose the reason the tourists came, but also the income generated by the tourists. 

        It’s an ironic catch-22 that Costas can’t lose in their market because people will invariably choose familiarity, despite visiting Totnes for it’s uniqueness to begin with.

        1. That’s true.

          Also best not to forget that this will be the vocal minority we’re hearing from, the people that really care about their town. The unwashed masses will likely flock to the Costa so they can be like people they’ve seen on reality TV.

          Ultimately I’m on their side, I think that should be noted. But at the same time this is raw capitalism – so let the market speak for itself. Well, that’s what I’d say if I were a stuffy economist that didn’t understand psychology, society or culture.

      2. If they don’t want costa, then don’t buy their coffee.

        Have you never taken a history course that covered the last 400 years? Large corporations have the resources to undersell their smaller competitors and then jack up the prices once they’re gone. They have the resources to buy local ordinances regarding hours and traffic and parking, all of which drives business away from their competitors and to them. Large corporations get large by using money and dirty tricks to plough every local business under.

        1. Admittedly I did address the fact that the ‘free market’ model is flawed from that perspective, but it must have been elsewhere (replying via email so can’t check). Hopefully it was as part of a reply to this comment so I don’t look too silly.

      1. Well no.  If I have some land and want to open a store on that land, I don’t think my neighbors get to vote on weather or not I can do that.  You think they do?  Why is that?

        1. Because you might want to open a porn shop between two schools. 

          Nice weasel, BTW, using the word “neighbors” as if it meant “the two guys living either side of you” as opposed to “your community, you know, the people you will live with and deal with for the entire time you’re living there and whom your actions will affect”.

          1. @septimar:disqus So since you can’t imagine, nobody else should be able to either?  It can still be a valid complaint even if it doesn’t comport with your sensibilities.

        2. You’ve never done anything in a municipality have you? 

          People do have an individual and a collective say, and it isn’t based on your own morality, preference, outlook, politics or belief system. Their say in what you do adjacent to them is their own and it matters. Otherwise cities would be a series of walled compounds with no cohesive infrastructure and an economy that would be best described as “feudal”.

          You can find examples of such cities in places where the rights of the individual are based on the caliber of weapon they carry and how many brigands they command.

          1. i suspect things may be difefrent in the UK 

            the locals probably have less say in this than this post would suggest. if the premesis has the right license, there probably aren’t many ways that a business can be stopped opening there anyway. 

            campaigns with locals getting involved normally happen when a change of use is up for a council decision, or if planning permission is being sought for a new building.the planning laws in the UK are rigorous and pretty transparent, but sadly are open to abuse through monetary attrition. objections to permissions being granted have to fall within very specific guidelines, and that goes for the council’s ruling on them. if the council is seen to be biased the thing will go to court and most likely they will lose, since they typically get out-spent by the big multinationals. Tesco is notorious for grinding down local authorities by expensive litigation or threats thereof – for example last year in Stoke’s Cross in Bristol, where riots ensued because a Tesco Metro opened up.

        3. Try opening a bordello in most US states or an abortion clinic, for that matter. 

          Or an liquor store with strong spirits in Utah. 

        4. The porn shop is an interesting example, since it would actually be my example of why property rights are important.  And why affording a high degree of latitude to the individual is actually good for creating a dynamic community.

          If I wanted to open up a sex toy shop then I should be able to do so.  Some people in the community might not like this.  They may say “this is a Christian town, we don’t do that sort of thing.”  But the truth is that they don’t speak for everyone.  The truth is that some of their neighbors do do that sort of thing.  By respecting property rights we’re tolerating our neighbors decisions, even when they differ from our own.  And we create a legal framework under witch those different choices can coexist.

          retepslluerb’s example of the abortion clinic is perhaps even more explicit.  The ability of an individual to actually exercise their rights depends on the respect of private property.

          You’re right of course that opening up a Bordello or an abortion clinic, or even a bar would be met with legal resistance in some jurisdictions.  I’m saying that those restrictions are damaging to the individual and the community.

          I’m not against all regulation.  Sometimes resources can be managed for the benefit of all.  Zoning laws which place the bars and pornshops in one area and the schools in another can be an example of this.  But all too often zoning laws can be used to create effective ban’s.

          Neither am I denying the value of community.  Rather I’m arguing that civic life is stronger when it’s less official.  That community is made stronger and more dynamic when it exists bellow the level of law, at the level of interpersonal interaction.

          1. Like the interpersonal interaction engaged in by Whitfield Group PLC in this matter?

            Seems like the townspeople are engaged and engaging others interpersonally, what example can you provide to the contrary?

          2. as with many things, reality is usually more complicated.

            I live in Soho, which is London’s red-light district among other things. My 6 year old daughter goes to school, and has to walk past at least six or eight porn shops to get there –  gay ones and a straight ones. this is entirely legal and some argue is an important part of central London’s cultural heritage. but why should my daughter be exposed to that sort of thing? maybe i should accept that kids shouldn’t be brought up here and move out – but several thousand people live in Soho, plenty of them families. doesn’t that set a dangerous precedent?The buildings that actually back onto the school playground used to be clip-joints until they were compulsorily purchased by the council and then handed over to our local housing association, so clearly lines do get drawn..

          3. That community is made stronger and more dynamic when it exists bellow the level of law, at the level of interpersonal interaction.

            Exactly! Now that corporations are people, we can finally call corporate invasions “interpersonal interactions”. You’ve closed the circle.

          4. @ avraamov But Soho is safer than many outer or suburban London estates. Does your daughter have to negotiate turf wars among gangs over rights to deal drugs? Does your daughter have to avoid walking through other estates or areas because she was born and raised on the wrong estate? Does she run the risk of being shot either by gang members or the police? Kids where I live (Stockwell/Brixton/Vauxhall) run the risk of serious injury if they are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is within walking distance of West End theatres and Covent Garden (most of which have policies to make tickets affordable for as many as possible nowadays), The British Museum, The National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Westminster, Parliament, etc. – enough history and culture to last a lifetime. There are whole streets of bookshops (antiquarian/general and specialist) and independent cafes in every street. I was brought up in a leafy suburb of London. As soon as I was able I used to jump the trains to Charing Cross Road and all its bookshops (especially Foyles) and Soho and its porn shops, clubs and bars (even though I was much too young to get in). I couldn’t think of a better place to raise a kid and at least she won’t get a criminal record for fare dodging.

        5. Yes, they do get to vote on it.  That’s exactly what zoning laws are.  You can’t open a hog fat rendering plant or a Walmart in the middle of a residential neighborhood, why would you assume you could?

          1. I actually talked about zoning.  Disagree with me if you like but please don’t turn me into a straw man by selectively reading what I write.

            Zoning can be fine.  But zoning can be abused.  “No retail stores in a residential zone” fine.  “No bar’s without a liquor license” sure ok I guess.  “No bar’s without a liquor license and there is only one license” really?

            “No stores that start with the word ‘costa’, this area is not zoned for ‘costas’.” Is not really a zoning law.

          2. …don’t turn me into a straw man…

            “No stores that start with the word ‘costa’, this area is not zoned for ‘costas’.” Is not really a zoning law.

            One of these things is not like the other.

          3.  @google-1543e177822687e2dc844961a9ec97c2:disqus  “No stores that start with the word ‘costa’, this area is not zoned for ‘costas’.” Is not really a zoning law

            Which is not at all what’s happening here….

          4. @google-1543e177822687e2dc844961a9ec97c2:disqus

            “No stores that start with the word ‘costa’, this area is not zoned for ‘costas’.” Is not really a zoning law.

            And you accuse me of strawmanning your argument?  You really don’t want to be taken seriously, do you?

        6. Because total land ownership within a small community is wrong.

          I’m not even entirely sure how I feel about land ownership altogether tbh; why should we be able to buy chunks of the planet?  Who grants us this ability and who regulates it?  No one, that’s who.

          That’s why you can have mining companies in the US ripping off the tops of mountains and whole sections of the ocean auctioned off to oil companies.  At the other end you have people buying local beauty spots and charging locals entry fees.

          Hm, I need to read more into this before I form an opinion I’m willing to fight, but in summary I don’t think your reply is as black and white as you think it is.

          1. I don’t think you’re actually against land ownership.  You can’t be.  Land exists.  Different people put different demands on it.  If some one is given the legal right to control what happens on that land then they de facto own it.  That’s just the way it is.  When you say that I shouldn’t be able to own the land, what you’re really saying is that this other political entity “the town” who claims to represent “the townspeople” own’s the land instead.

            Now I’m not against state owned land either.  I like parks.  I think they’re valuable.  And I’m glad that they exist.  But parks are not public land and they’re certainly not un-owned land, they’re state owned land.

            Your specific examples of bad outcomes, the mountains in Virginia, are also mostly not examples of un-owned land.  That’s land owned by the state which leased it to a third party when maybe they shouldn’t have.

          2. I don’t think you’re actually against land ownership. You can’t be.

            Why can’t someone be against land ownership. It’s perfectly reasonable to allow people to own chattel property and to retain land ownership by the commons. The vast majority of non-commons land was stolen from it’s original inhabitants by foreign invaders, settlers, nobles or corporations.

          3. Thank you for your reply.  I agree it’s not black and white.  I’m trying to show that my position is not actually black and white either.

          4. I don’t think you’re actually against land ownership.  You can’t be.  Land exists.  Different people put different demands on it.  If some one is given the legal right to control what happens on that land then they de facto own it.

            Physiologically modern homo sapiens predate the concept of land ownership by somewhere between .5 and 1 million years.  This statement does not reveal deep, philosophical thought.  It reveals a profound failure of imagination.

          5. I wasn’t trying to suggest that land ownership wasn’t possible (although I did go off on a tangent), but instead that there are moral, social and environmental factors involved in land ownership that make it in interesting area of debate. The question was more ‘should one be able to buy land’, not ‘can one buy land’.

          6.  Sorry Nathan, I meant to reply to David Levy’s comment but the thread had maxed out.  I agree with you that the concept of land ownership should be up for debate.

          7. You’re not alone in finding the idea of land ownership problematic. It unites people from middle class townies to anarchists. The word ownership disguises all sorts of problems surrounding responsibility and control.

        7.  Are you familiar with the notion of zoning laws?  The community and officials do have a say in what happens in their community.

          1. Of course I’m familiar with zoning laws.  I live in Boston, a city that has been purposely choked of everything new and exciting by zoning laws and similar corruption.

            You want a restaurant that’s open late?  After midnight?  We’re certainly not zoned for that, you should be in bed.  You want to live in that warehouse?  No we’re not zoned for that either, you’ll have to wait until the developers successfully rezone the property and turn it into luxury “lofts.”  Then you can live there.  You want to have an arts festival?  What if it rains?  Oh you have popup structures for that?  That might be a fire hazard.  You need to send us in a sample of the cloth cut from every structure so that the fire department can test it.  That will be $200 each.  No I said from every structure.  I don’t care that they’re all the same brand and that the fabric is identical.

          2. You want a restaurant that’s open late?  After midnight?  We’re certainly not zoned for that, you should be in bed.

            Oh pleez…

            Not sure what your (likely exaggerated) rant about Boston has to do with a village trying to keep out a giant multinational.  Maybe things have changed in Boston since I was there last, when there were plenty of bars, restaurants, and shopping malls…

            Not wanting the second largest coffee chain in the world in your village has nothing to do with burdensome or needless regulation or “luxury lofts”.

          3. Of course I’m familiar with zoning laws.  I live in Boston, a city that has been purposely choked of everything new and exciting by zoning laws and similar corruption.

            Apparently we live in two very different versions of Boston, MA.

            You want a restaurant that’s open late?  After midnight?

            There are actually plenty of restaurants that are open after midnight; most don’t bother because the T shuts down at 12:30 so there’s no business anyway.

            You want to have an arts festival?  What if it rains?  Oh you have popup structures for that?  That might be a fire hazard.

            Figment happened a few weeks ago.  SOWA happens every week in the summer.  There are arts festivals in Cambridge and Boston all the time, I don’t know wtf you are talking about.

            Even you must realize your “living in a warehouse” example is ridiculous.  You can’t live in a warehouse someone else owns without their permission, so yeah, if the developers own the property you have to wait for them to rezone it and do whatever else with it they want.  If you own it then you can go through the process of rezoning it to residential — presumably building inspectors will have something to say about it if it’s not up to code, but that’s their job isn’t it?

            If it sucks so bad you should move. Seriously. Think about it.

            Edit: Yeah, I think you’re making shit up. Surprised? Edit 2: Your example of an arts festival that wasn’t allowed to happen was in reality an arts festival that was allowed to happen and I’m supposed to assume you’re arguing in good faith?

            Let me put it this way: what new exciting developments would warm you to our fair city? Replacing all the businesses in the back bay with a walmart or two? Replacing the butchers and pasta shops in the North End with a Stop ‘n Shop? I’m still not really sure I understand your position here.

          4. Ok.  I’ll admit that was a little ranty and a digression.  But they are related.  Yes, Figment, funny you mention that.  It did happen.  It very nearly didn’t.  What you think I just made up those examples?

            Edit: “Surprised?” yes a little. I always try to argue from good faith and expect the same in return. I assume that your stated opinions are your own sincerely held beliefs and that you’re generally honest. Without that there really isn’t any reason to continue a conversation.

          5. Cool let’s list late night eateries in Boston.  Cause I’m actually far more interested in learning about more late night diner’s than I am arguing about a chain shop in a town I’ll probably never visit.

            The places I can think of are:
            Red Bone’s.  12:30 not really late night but close.
            Moody’s Falafel Pallace.  Open until 3:00, god I love Moody’s.
            IHOP in Harvard.  I’ve never been there.  I don’t actually like chain restaurants.
            South Street Diner of course.  Open 24 hours, and for that they’re famous.  But frankly I don’t like the food.  I’ll still take it though when the birds are chirping and the T hasn’t opened yet.

            So what are the good places I don’t know about?

          6. Not to deflate your argument, but you should appreciate we don’t have zoning laws as such in England & Wales. Businesses must seek planning permission from the local council to be allowed to operate. This licence is often attached to the premises and can often be transferred between businesses at the council’s pleasure. 

            A common trick of Tesco’s is to buy a business premise and persuade the council that they are continuing usage (local to me there was a car part store converted to a Tesco) and if the council get huffy they threaten to bankrupt the council with legal action.
            In Totnes it seems that all the out of town councillors voted to allow Costa’s continuing use and all the resident councillors voted against. (Our town/county “democracy” is muddled to put it mildy without the clearer divisions of the US).

      2. I think you have given us an excellent example of ochlocracy. Here the majority has placed their interests well above the interests of a smaller group. So much so, that it could be seen as an act of oppression. 

        It makes me wonder, do the residents of Totes own the town or are they simply residing in a town in the same UK as Costa Coffe? They seem to think they have exclusive ownership.

        The entire thing smacks of elitism. No, that’s not quite it.. Snobbery! That’s it. Snobbery – invented by the French and perfected by the Brits.

        1. That’s cute, that you represent the large powerful corporation as the little guy being shoved around by the big mean local townspeople. Gosh darn those people who live there!

          And then you try and make it seem that by exercising their rights they are unjustly excluding the poor big powerful corporation with their subversion of local governance! Those Bastards!

          How dare they decide for themselves, in the place they live! Elitist Bastards, you will favour the large corporation as it knows best for you, you anti-corporate anti-capitalist bourgeois commie freeloaders, trying to operate your own business and determine your own future when we offer you corporate compliance as an alternative.

          Those bastards.

          haha, just kidding. But seriously, you just equated mob rule with the mob as the smaller group in this conflict…

          1. Of course I equate this with mob rule. It is the vocal townspeople who are wanting to force their will on the fewer number of people who want a Costa coffee in their neighborhood. Don’t think for a minute that 100% of the Totnes population wants Costa to move along. 

            You do realize that many Costa locations are  independently owned franchises right? You make Costa out to be some evil mega corp when the truth is that they are big in the coffee world but tiny in the business world. 
            Also, do you imagine that the manager and employees of this proposed Costa are going to be shipped in each day? Of course not. We are talking locals here.

            What wrongs has Costa committed to deserve such ire? Is being successful because people like your product a sufficient reason to demonize this company? I suspect this is about well-to-do trust fund hippies wanting something, anything to protest against because the arguments against Costa seem to be based on indignation rather than reason. After all, it’s not as if Totnes is free from chain businesses.

            If Totnes does not want Costa Coffee, the townspeople can simply not do business with the shop. Preventing them from even trying is bad sport and bullying and their reasoning is pure unfiltered smug.

          2. Donavan acree – It’s more than just the vocal townspeople when 5475 people of a town that has a population of 7444 show up to a protest. 

            The planners that represented that area voted against the development based on the wishes of the people in the area affected, which they represent, the other planners voted without that consideration as they don’t represent that area.

            You make out Costa to be small, smaller than the tiny town that doesn’t want them, but they are not small, 


            According to them they managed 1,778,000,000.00 pounds of revenue in their year ending March 1, 2012. They posted a gross profit of 1,489,600,000.00 pounds. They posted a net profit of 266,000,000.00 pounds. They are publicly traded on the London exchange and have 192,000,000+ shares in play.

            Whitbread Group LPC is not small by any measure, and is global, stop pretending that the parent corp is Mom and Pop, and smaller than the tiny town that doesn’t want or need them.

            There need be no wrongs, that’s a false argument, the people of Totnes need not require that something be pure or impure to reject it. 

            Reality, your argument that Costa is small is so ridiculous that you are a fool or a shill. Billions of pounds. Worth Billions of pounds.

          3. I find it incredible that you’re actually serious, donovan acree.

            “It is the vocal townspeople who are wanting to force their will on the fewer number of people who want a Costa coffee in their neighborhood.”

            Oh no, those poor people! The minority’s rights are getting trampled on. They’re being oppressed by that elitist and selfish majority!

            Or not. This not an issue about oppression. This is not like straight folks deciding how the LGBT minority can live their personal lives. The local people get to have a say in what is built in their town, and they are saying nay.

            I doubt that a single person in the town is actually so passionate about getting the chain coffee shop near them that they would do more than shrug their shoulders and say “damn, that’s too bad” if it didn’t happen. Do you truly believe that the majority, who feel the issue is important enough that they are actually protesting, should not be accounted for just so the few people who want a Costa coffee in their neighbourhood get their way? That seems completely backwards.

        2. “Costa Coffee” doesn’t reside anywhere.  It is not the sort of thing that can fulfill the physical actions involved in the verb “to reside.”

          Do the owners of Costa Coffee reside in Totes? If so then they have as much say as anyone else.

      3. I absolutely believe they should have a say but businesses and business owners have rights also in these matters. It seems that they aren’t going to be able to stop this store from opening so instead of fighting them they should throw more support behind the stores already there that they like. Let them have their say with their wallets and lets see how it turns out (optimistic and slightly naive on my part I know).

  2. The pity about chains is that they centralize profits, removing them from the community.  As such, chains are tributaries to the money river we have in the UK from the population to the bankers, alongside non-local mortgages, banking, insurance etc. 

    The real pity is that the (local elected) planners are happy to accept this.  “Yes, take our local wealth back to the city with you, it is worth it for a 43rd coffee shop.” 

    1. The pity about chains is that they centralize profits, removing them from the community.

      It’s amazing to me how few folk seem to realise this. They surely must know it – it takes but a moment’s thought – but it never seems to figure in arguments.

      1. You’re talking about a country that gave a gi-fucking-normous rail contract to a company in Germany to save a bit of money, completely ignoring the fact that all the people put out of work won’t be paying taxes and will be getting benefits. But they were the lowest bidder! Penny wise, pound foolish.

  3. Free will is a nice argument, but it is also reasonable to exercise it collectively.  The planners are elected, but the fact is if they’re not following the will of the collective population then there’s a democratic failing.  The people should kick out the planners, not Costa.

  4. I’m not fond of chains and tend to avoid them.  I avoid Costa Coffee because it is some of the worst coffee I have ever had.  I actually had to throw it out, it was so disgusting…  So it looks like this is a double win.

    1. I’ve been twice. I had a rather nice mocha there a couple of years ago. Then a couple of weeks ago I had another and it was rubbish. Since much of the point of these chains is uniformity and consistency of product, that’s that knocked on the ‘ead then.

  5. Totnes sounds like the sort of place I’d absolutely love to live in, but I wouldn’t want to risk ruining the place by contributing to overpopulation. Instead the next time in Britain I’ll visit it and patronize only the local shops, although if it’s anything like Royston Vasey I might never leave.

    And as a coin collector I’d love to get my hands on some of the local currency. Does anyone know how? 

    1. I’ve already gathered all my worldly possessions in a ball wrapped around the end of a stick, and am on route to Totnes as we speak.  I’m assuming that my clever, anthropomorphized cat will be able to wrangle me a couch to sleep on until I get set up.

    2. And as a coin collector I’d love to get my hands on some of the local currency. Does anyone know how?

      Don’t tell him, Pike!

      I dunno. These rich furners buyin’ up our kernsy an’ inflatin’ orkonomy. Sheesh.

    3. actually it’s really rather wealthy, and crammed to the rafters with ageing hippies. i found it a bit smug, personally.

  6. … and when the recession is over in 5 years time, people start wandering what ever happened to the lovely, unique town they used to live in and why has it been overrun by the same sterile, soul-destroying fast-food god-awful coffee chains that are in every other f..king town in the country.

    It’s not about elitism – it’s about having respect for culture, personality and uniqueness – the things that define you or define a place, rather than always making everything about money, which ultimately ruins more lives than you can imagine.

  7. Just to be clear, Portland OR does not issue their own currency.  Unless you count weed, but that works beyond local businesses too.

  8. I thought I’d chime in being an English coffee lover living in a tiny town. I wish my town had took the same initiative as Totnes, and have independent cafe’s with highly skilled baristas. When I go for a coffee I go more for a place to relax and unwind, often bringing my laptop with me to do some gentle surfing or writing. Unfortunately before any major coffee brands came to my town all we had were dingy tea rooms, where they’d look at you like you were an alien if your order ventured any further than a ‘milky coffee’.

    When a Nero’s opened in my town I welcomed it. They used a charming old building and have a relaxing, well designed interior, with great friendly staff. They seem to use the same decorating scheme across all their shops, but it works.

    (We also had a Costa open, but I don’t enjoy their bland coffee and Mc Donnald’s type layout/atmosphere)

    If some of the independent cafe’s in town started branching out with more drink options and put a better thought into the layout, design, and atmosphere I would greatly welcome it, and would be open to trying them. Lower prices and the individuality independent cafe’s would bring would be amazing, but for now, it’s Nero’s or milky coffee surrounded by only old people giving you the evil eye.

  9. So,  does this mean that if any of the existing 42 coffee shop owners open a second shop elsewhere the good people of Totnes will drive the greedy chain making bastards out of town?

      1. I had a long reply to this, but sod it.  Fair cop, there was more than a whiff of the corn dolly to my question.  Also the point was kind of stupid.

        Still.  I guess I get grumpy because it feels to me that they’re arguing that Costa shouldn’t be allowed because it’s a big nasty corporate behemoth that might affect small businesses, when they’re actually quite happy to permit other big nasty corporate behemoths that affect small businesses – such as the Morrisons supermarket.  Presumably because they all quite fancied having a supermarket, but they have 42 coffee shops already, and only the tourists want a Costa… 

        1. The people who don’t live there you mean? Tourists can go elsewhere, literally anywhere else, if they want to see their homogenized reflection. Totnes is a destination for the precise opposite inducement offered by Costas.

          The locals have a right to their local economy and a are correct to keep Totnes a destination by not making it just like everywhere else to protect that economy.

          1.  Totnes is a tourist destination because it is on the River Dart and is quite nice by the river. Not because it’s dominated by a load of old hippies and new age crystal worshippers.

          2. So you believe that if Totnes were a strip mall of McD’s, Starbucks & parking lots for these it would still be a destination? Despite it’s long history as a cultural landmark destination and nice place to visit?

          3.  If tourists really come to Totnes to bathe in its absence of chain stores, then Costa will be completely ignored by these fine discerning people, and will be gone within 6 months, lesson learned.

            Surely the fear isn’t homeginisation, it’s that the considerable money brought in by tourists will no longer go to local businesses?

          4. Surely the fear isn’t homeginisation, it’s that the considerable money brought in by tourists will no longer go to local businesses?

            Which is a legitimate reason to try to avoid having a multinational sucking money out of your local economy.

          5.  @Navin_Johnson:disqus  – Yes, I totally accept that.  My issue is that it’s repeatedly presented as an ideological fight when in reality, it’s one borne entirely out of wholly understandable self interest.

  10. If only the people of Totnes weren’t so blindingly insufferable. I used to live 13 miles away, and still live in the same county. God, that place is so irritating, the more so because on some things they do accidentally get it right.

    1. I guess it’s because they live 25 miles away from the best county in England. They probably have a big inferiority complex.

      1.  Ah, so you admit that Cornwall is an English county and not an ancient mystical independent country ;-) I think if you combined Devon’s inland (and people) with Cornwall’s coastline you’d have perfection.

  11. Here in KC, a few years ago we had a Starbucks move in right next to an established local coffee shop, one that had a lot of personality and some decently dedicated clientele.  Operated like that for a year or so I think.  Then the Starbucks finally shut down and cleared out because they just weren’t able to compete.

    This sort of thing makes me smile.

    1. In Seattle, Starbucks runs a stealth coffee shop (they used to run two, but one went back to being a regular store), where the branding is hidden/minimal and they appear to be an independent cafe. Seems a bit cynical to me.

    2. I read that as ‘in KFC’ at first. Now, guerilla warfare spec-ops franchises that can set up an assault coffee-shop inside another chain, that I can get behind.

  12. It’s already been raised in this comment thread, though no-one seems to have responded: why not let Costa open a branch and *see* whether people really do want to visit?  If the protesters are correct, Costa won’t be there long, as they’ll have no custom.

    Or do the vocal minority fear that they’re wrong: that a ‘silent majority’ of locals and visitors would be quite happy to give Costa their custom, and therefore Costa can’t be permitted to even try?

  13. It’s nice to characterize this as a war against Global Capitalism – a more flag-waving appellation than what it is: NIMBYism. It works against chain stores, low-income housing, wind machines within sight of one’s Hyannisport home and anything else locals don’t want.

    1. wind machines within sight of one’s Hyannisport home

      The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound was started and bankrolled by one of the Koch brothers.  But yes, us proles are all like little Koch Brothers and Ted Kennedys* with our opposition to wealth sucking multinationals………soooo you’re actually comparing these small town villagers to the wealthiest oligarchs and old money elite we have in this country…

      William I. Koch, the Osterville summer resident and fossil fuel magnate who helped bankroll the opposition to the Cape Wind energy project, has emerged as a key backer of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign

      Cape Wind foe Koch chips in for Romney”

      I think this is funny too, because I’m not wealthy, and I actually have public scattered housing on my block, and yes I think there should be more affordable housing.

      * how many more years after his death must pass before this extremely wealthy politician isn’t a bogeyman and stand in for every regular progressive person in this country?

      1. Gee, I don’t know, Navin. As long as it’s convenient, I guess.
        : ) And it is in this case because announcing it’s a ‘fight against global capitalism’ gives it the righteous progressive spin of standing against corporatism when, much more likely, it’s just your garden-variety NIMBYism – an activity that cuts across all ideologies.

        1. I don’t know, chalking everything up to “NIMBYism” also seems a little convenient. (For whom? Cui bono?)

        2. ‘fight against global capitalism’

          You realize that’s just what The Guardian decided to call their article right? By your reasoning here, any sensible interest in maintaining a community’s quality of life for all its citizens and local businesses is simple “NIMBYism”, a convenient accusation in order to defend neoliberal policy and ideology. Thankfully it’s one that it is easily dismissed. It easily falls apart considering this is essentially a Starbucks, so it’s not unsightly or even something that would make people immediately worry about property values or something. They are concerned about local businesses, extracted wealth, and the (outside interest/corporate) foothold that this represents in their town. Also, if you read the article, it seems that the company has targeted this big shop to be at an entry point for visiting tourists, which of course would discourage much of them from further exploring the town and the local places to drink and dine.

          According to the articles, the majority of the townspeople and their officials don’t want it.  Seems like democracy in action to me, and it never surprises me to see how conservatism (neoliberal defense of power/wealth, and in this case Costa) inherently clashes with real democracy. They are directly opposed after all…

          1. “You realize (f-a-g-c) that’s just what The Guardian decided to call their article right?”

            Sure. And likely why Mr Doctorow decided to post it. Caught his eye. I don’t have a beef with townspeople (or a city council) voting on whatever they do or don’t want. Seriously. I understand most NIMBYism – it’s a very human, protective reaction. There’s this little precious town north of the Golden Gate Bridge that has two (2) Whole Foods, but won’t let a Subway™ store in. Happens all the time. It’s just this particular characterization (f-a-g-c) I find laughably over the top.

            wysinwyg: Convenient, hell yeah! My Simple Theory of Civilization is that we’re all in one long march towards convenience.

  14. I never heard of this place before the post, and my general inclination is to let equivalent businesses open in equivalent areas regardless of who owns them (in other words, I am fine with zoning, but not barring specific companies). However, it’s hard to get worked up about an area that has (apparently) cultivated a specific “feel” for tourists wanting to preserve that feel. 

    I suppose the better way to handle this (at least in the U.S.) would be to create a special zone that reflects the tourist deal they are going for, sort of equivalent to a historic zone or some other gimmick, and create objective zoning rules that applied to the area. It may be a species of NIMBY or snobbishness, but at least it takes away the whiff of unfair unfair treatment. After all, Costa today, who knows what tomorrow.

    1. “I suppose the better way to handle this (at least in the U.S.) would be to create a special zone that reflects the tourist deal they are going for, sort of equivalent to a historic zone or some other gimmick, and create objective zoning rules that applied to the area.”

      Sounds just like the tourist trap I live in. I’m sure it’s a nice place to visit, but it sucks to live here.

      1. Wait, what is this? The concerns above seem to be that tourists will flock to Costa because it is familiar. The locals, evidently, are already clear that they would not go there. Presumably the concern has to be the impact of non-locals.

        Also, I am very suspicious of not wanting to have rules that everyone sees and are clear about . . .

        1.  I can’t speak for the good people of Totnes; I support what they’re doing, it sounds like the right thing for them.

          However, I live in a tourist town in the US, and whilst I’m sure it’s good for the economy, and it’s nice that the historic area at least isn’t full of strip malls, I think it’s a really naff place to live. Doesn’t feel to me like it’s run for the benefit of locals.

          That and the appalling contrast between the tourist areas and the much poorer ones, the horrific racial segregation and the terrifying murder rate for a small city.

          But at least we’re home to one of the three best sandwiches in the country, according to Man vs Food boy yesterday.


      2. Sounds just like the tourist trap I live in. I’m sure it’s a nice place to visit, but it sucks to live here.

        Why do they call it ‘tourist season’ if you’re not allowed to hunt them?

  15. 1) With 1400+ outlets, Costa’s economies of scale allow it to serve coffee at a lower price point than the local shops.

    2) Costa’s pricing wouldn’t be tied to the local economy, because their Totnes store would represent a tiny fraction of their overall revenue. If they wanted to hand out free coffee for a year they could afford to do it, and many of the local shops would probably go under. I suspect that’s why such practices are usually illegal.

    The point is that chain stores link distant, differently-scaled economies to local markets, and by doing so they expose those local markets to a sloshy volatility in which local firms must inevitably drown. It’s similar to the meeting of discrete ecologies of disparate size, and to the meeting of human societies at different levels of technological modernity. The thing to remember is this: once it’s gone you can’t get it back.

  16. “They shall go on to the end. They shall fight in Totnes, they shall fight on the seas and oceans, they shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, they shall defend their town, whatever the cost may be. They shall fight on the streets, they shall fight in the alleys, they shall fight in the mixed residential areas, they shall fight in the lobby’s of nondescript office buildings; they shall never surrender. . .”My apologies to Churchill’s ghost.  Sorry Winnie, couldn’t help myself.

  17. OK, there seems to be a misunderstanding of how town planning works in the UK (USAians – think zoning law).  Town and Country Planning has no powers to stop a particular chain opening in an area – the only reason the local authorities are involved at all is because the premises used to be a shop and the new owners want it to become a cafe – this is called “change of use” and is a legitimate planning concern.

    The professional town planners have probably told the elected councillors that there are no grounds for refusing the change of use (because the ultimate business is irrelevant to the planning process) but the councillors for the area have ignored them because of the bad publicity and local feeling.

    No part of the planning system allows one to ban Costa or Walmart – all they can do is ban the change of use or the erection of new buildings and only then if they can bring their reasons for banning them under one of the grounds for refusal the law allows.

    “No large chains here” is not a grounds for refusing planning.

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