Thursday, 1 November 2012

SoS (Save our Shops)

tea shop, English tea shop, British tea shop,

Before the Great American invention that is Starbucks came to the scene and killed off the genuine coffee culture, independent tea and coffee shops thrived in this part of the world. There were few who survived the harsh realities of globalisation but those who did have managed to keep their loyal customer base largely through their own merits and despite not having the means to extensive advertising campaigns ran by their corporate competitors.

One of those enduring local institutions is the award-winning Northern Tea Merchants in Chesterfield, along the A619 through the heart of the Peak District. Its main business is the selling of speciality teas (of which black, earl grey and camomile are the only ones I could yet distinguish) and coffee beans from all over the world. But anyone can easily be tempted to sit down and experience the delights of drinking freshly ground coffee from a cafetiere savouring the aroma of the beans as they are left to brew. There are of course patrons who also frequent the shop for their regular serving of afternoon tea composed of authentic tea leaves and homemade sandwiches or cakes.

authentic coffee shop experience

Coffee and tea houses have been traditionally built for the meeting of friends and for refreshment breaks after a long walk or a shopping spree.  Every British high street is littered with them although alarmingly in the recent years, the local independent shops have been viciously forced out of the city centres by big corporate chains who are serving half the quality but who manage to get away with it thanks to brand-obsessed loyal supporters.

This is quite a shame, especially as recent facts revealed that the biggest of these brands, Starbucks, has managed to dodge tax payments in European countries due to elaborate tax avoidance schemes that as part of a global corporate structure it can easily exercise. Despite its massive earnings in the UK alone of £3B since 1998, it has only ever paid £8.6M of income tax. In 2011, despite reporting $40M profit to its shareholders, it paid no taxes to the UK government by reporting a $60M loss for that year. Clever accountants, you might say, and stupid tax man for that matter. But as a tax-paying citizen of any country where these corporate giants operate, we should all be alarmed about this blatant robbery right under our very noses.

But all is not bleak afterall.  A village in Dorset has successfully won their campaign against allowing another corporate brand, Costa, to infiltrate their neighbourhood that thrives on independent local businesses. Of course one can say that villages are more powerful in this country, they can easily get things done because there are fewer votes required to constitute a majority. But I’m still a believer of ‘every little counts’. Any voice no matter how small can still make a difference, any pound spent on a local shop that pays taxes can fuel the very economy that gives us jobs and is paying for our health services amongst others. This is called social responsibility and this is probably what David Cameron meant with his visions of The Big Society. 


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