Friday, February 22, 2013
Costa Coffee quietly opened the doors of its Southwold shop on Tuesday afternoon with an official opening the following day.
Staff handed out vouchers for a free cup of coffee around the town this week, but apart from that there was little fanfare for the new store, which has been fiercely opposed by local businesses and residents.
The first full day of trading appeared to be going well, with a steady stream of customers through the door and most of the tables full.
It all seems a far cry from the scenes last year when the plans were revealed. In a classic case of locals rebelling against the rampant increase in multi-national chain stores, scores protested against the plans.
Just as they have done in similar cases up and down the country.
Store manager Glenn Crane, who previously managed the Costa Coffee outlet in Tesco, Beccles, said the shop had been busy since opening at 7am on Wednesday morning.
“We had workmen in at 7.10am wanting coffee,” he said.
“We are surprised at how busy it has been.”
The store employs 11 full and part-time staff with more than 400 people applying for the roles when they were advertised last year.
Mr Crane said he was aware of the opposition in Southwold but he believed people had the wrong impression of Costa.
“We do charity work and fundraising for schools,” he said. “People in Southwold haven’t seen that side of it. All they see is the Whitbread sign but it is how the individual store manager interacts with the community that makes the store.”
The town council and more than 600 people objected to Costa’s plans to take over the former Fanny & Frank clothes shop amid concerns it could harm the town’s “unique character”.
But despite the opposition, its plans were given the go-ahead by Waveney District Council’s development control committee in August.
Southwold mayor Michael Ladd said he would not be using Costa and encouraged other people to do the same.
“I definitely won’t be using it because I don’t agree with their tactics,” he said. “I will continue to support local, independent tea and coffee shops. Independents have more to offer the community. They get involved in community events and we saw that last year with the diamond jubilee, Olympic flame and Christmas lights.”
He added: “We have to accept that they have opened but it won’t stop us fighting in the future and doesn’t mean we should go and support the corporate chains.”
John Perkins, of The Southwold and Reydon Society, echoed Mr Ladd’s calls and urged people to boycott the High Street shop.
He said tourists visited Southwold because it was unique and competition force other businesses out – as well as reduce the attractiveness of Southwold as a tourist town.
“This will have a devastating effect on the independent coffee shops and restaurants,” he said.
“We decided against any formal protest and just agreed the best reaction was to simply not use the Costa Coffee shop. The advice to all our members is not to use it. We are also encouraging local people and tourists not to use Costa.”
Guy Mitchell, chairman of Southwold Chamber of Trade, urged people to “value the fact that Southwold offers something a little different” rather than “settling for the bland cloned option served up throughout the country”.
He said it was not surprising Costa had a busy start as people would have been curious to see what all the fuss was about and been attracted by the offer of free coffee.
He said it was harder to quantify those who had taken the decision not to use it but there had been “more than a handful” of objections to Costa’s planning application in the summer.
He added: “If residents and visitors value the unique character of the town we hope that they will continue to support our local independent businesses in the same way that many of those businesses support the community.”