In the Gremlins films, the fictional furry Mogwai creatures reproduce when they get wet. You start with one Mogwai, and before you know it you have hundreds of them. Costa is the retail equivalent of Mogwai, one seemingly innocent Costa shop pops up somewhere, and suddenly it has replicated its self and spread to every corner of the known world. I have nothing against Costa, but I can’t help but wonder why we have so many of them. Are they on a mission to take over our high streets? Are they a corporate sponsor of Walthamstow? Maybe they are going for naming rights, welcome to wonderful Costastow.
I was out for a walk on Sunday, a round trip from Markhouse Road via Lea Bridge, Hoe Street, the High Street and St James Street, everywhere I looked I saw Costa signs. I felt like I was in an episode of the Prisoner, but instead of being stalked by a large white ball, I was being stalked by Costa Coffee shops. I walked past no less than seven of them, seven! First there was Costa Express in the Co-op on Markhouse, then Costa Lea Bridge at Bakers Arms, there’s another express in Tesco on Hoe Street, the big Costa at Central Station, two of the buggers in the Mall and another on St James Street. Seven Costa Coffee shops within walking distance of each other, this is an epidemic.
I admit I much prefer smaller independent cafes than the larger chains. But I really don’t have anything against the chains, expect perhaps Starbucks, I really dislike Starbucks because of their questionable tax avoiding past, but that’s a different story. I just think our High Streets are better off with variety. When chains like Costa invade, High Streets all start to look the same, they become identikit clone versions of each other, they lose their character. Independents are also, in my experience at least, more likely to get involved at a local level. For example, Wynwood Art District on Chingford Road opened on Christmas day for those who were on their own, I doubt you’d find a chain store doing the same thing.
Before anyone shouts at me, yes I know independents can often be more expensive than the chains. I’m not being snobby about Costa, I often use Costa myself when I’m away with work as I know what to expect when I go in. Chains have a place, but I don’t see why they have to be in every place. We already have more Costa and Tesco stores than we know what to do with. I just hope that the invasion of the chains stops before it really starts to impact those characterful independents that keep our High Streets healthy and different.