Yesterday a sign went up outside the empty estate agent on the high street to say that a Starbucks would be opening there. As if we need a Starbucks when there are already to my knowledge six independent coffee shops in the high street, all full of mums and students and little old ladies with bags of shopping.
There's Girasole, a coffee shop tacked on to an Italian deli; L'Amandine, a small room with a couple of pavement tables; the Vinery (my favourite), a greasy spoon serving all-day breakfasts; a sandwich bar for office types; a cafe next to Tesco's frequented by navvies; and the old-fashioned one down by the cottage hospital. What will happen to these "mom-and-pop" outfits once the Starbucks moves in? Will the market expand to embrace the newcomer, or will the smaller enterprises go to the wall?
My children have grown up on the all-day veggie breakfasts and falafel wraps served by jolly Mediterranean men behind the counter and a succession of buxom east European waitresses. I've been correcting the spellings in their ridiculously misprinted menus with my biro for years. You can't buy loyalty like that, and anyway I can buy as many discounted Starbucks coffees as I want in the ICIS building, so why do it in my own time?
Times are hard. Shoppers are switching from mainstream supermarkets to discount stores. The enthusiasm with which the office used to discuss the opening of the new Primark has switched to the virtues of Lidl. One colleague explains it's good for German cheeses, another says it's great for olives and antipasti. On my drive home from work I notice there's a Lidl in Kingston which must have been there for years but I've only just seen it this week. Our eyes have been opened to cheap shopping.
At home we are discussing whether to succumb to the email barrage from the Times to buy direct, cut out the middle-man newsagent distributor, and have our newspapers delivered to our door, guaranteed before 7 am, saving £2.50 a week into the bargain.
Never mind that we've been having the paper delivered by the newsagent on the high street, via various small boys on bikes and elderly gentlemen with trolleys, for I don't know how many years. Once when I was rampaging up and down the street looking for my lost son, Mr Gandhi the newsagent told me he'd been in the shop a few minutes earlier looking at the comics. So he recognised me, and knew my little son, even thought we'd only ever exchanged a few words over the paper bills. Another time he lent me an Oyster card when I couldn't find mine. It is on such small kindnesses that a community is build, so I think we will hang in there with our local suppliers.
When oil prices were at their peak earlier this year, economic pundits were anticipating a resurgence in local sourcing throughout the whole petrochemical supply chain. Business leaders were lauding the security, speed and flexibility of local suppliers, not to mention the environmental benefits. It would be stupidity to discard reliable local suppliers for short-term price advantage, whether it's for petchems or newspapers or falafel wraps.