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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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If only all the big guys could act like this

From beneath the arsenal of bitterness aimed at tax-avoiding multinationals and power-greedy corporations came a little glimmer of light the other day.

Costa, the giant coffee chain, had humbly and apologetically decided not to go where it wasn’t wanted and had cancelled plans to set up shop in the Devon town of Totnes.

In spite of having been given planning permission by councillors – who’d hastily turned deaf ears to their objecting population – the company bowed to local opinion and agreed to leave coffee drinkers in the capable hands of the town’s 41 independent outlets.

Surprising? It didn’t ought to have been. Once was the time when it wouldn’t have been worth even a raised eyebrow.

If the locals don’t want your business in their midst, they won’t support you. You won’t make the money you’d banked on – so, tuck your tail between your legs and head out of town... right?

Not these days it isn’t. We’ve grown glumly resigned to accepting exactly the opposite scenario.

More usually big companies use their muscle to power into towns – whether they’re welcome or not – closing independent businesses willy-nilly, offering the like-it-or- lump-it choice for consumers.

Little folks with a view on how they want their town to look and feel; with a preference for supporting the local economy through local services; with an aversion to big business shooting down smaller enterprise – they rarely get a look-in.

Frankly, since nobody listens – neither planners nor faceless conglomerates – we’ve none of us got much of a chance of being heard. Only when one giant breaks rank does it become clear what might be possible.

Now, I have to say I’m a Costa fan. I like the coffee, quality is consistent, staff are friendly and helpful and more often than not a Costa coffee shop works well as something of a community hub – a place for folks to meet and chew the cud.

I’m a fan too of a careful mix of independents, nationals and multinationals in town and city centres where competition is welcomed but domination rejected at all cost.

Now though there’s an added reason for admiration. Sympathetic to the views of locals, Costa has done what few other businesses of its size would have even considered. One northern town with six branches of the same supermarket within a six-mile radius – and another on the way – will bear witness to that.

Individuality in towns and cities comes not only from a mix of trade, variety of outlets and diverse shopping experiences. It comes principally from the spirit of people who care deeply about the environment they inhabit – their home – people who want only the best for it.

Chris Rogers, managing director of Costa, wrote to the people of Totnes, saying: “Costa has recognised the strength of feeling in Totnes against national brands and has taken into account the specific circumstances of the town.”

Humility – and from one so strong. Now there’s a new concept to sprinkle over your cappuccino. Sadly, I doubt it’ll catch on.

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