Starbucks: What’s all the fuss about?

THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Starbucks is opening a new store in Aberystwyth Town Centre last month sparked an anti-Starbucks campaign. An online petition, titled ‘We don’t want a Starbucks in Aberystwyth’ started by the campaign has just over 750 signatures at the time of writing this article.

Starbucks1The argument being made by the campaign is that “Starbucks will do nothing for the town, the economy or local people” and “won’t support the local supply chain”. There is also the concern that Aber will just become another ‘clone town’.

Now I won’t proceed to say that these views are necessarily wrong, but will having one Starbucks store really affect the town that much? Aberystwyth is one of the largest towns in mid-Wales, and is a popular tourist spot and university town. Therefore, the footfall is going to be pretty high and thus the demand for coffee and cafes is greater than many smaller towns. Aber already has a wealth of cafes to choose from – with the likes of Sophie’s, MGs and Lillies and might I add multinational chain Costa to name a few. Will the establishment of Starbucks really take away that much business or just help the increasing demand in Aberystwyth?

Just because the new store is opening, doesn’t mean that longtime goers to independent cafes will suddenly stop. Remember, with paying for the ‘Starbucks experience’, it will likely be a bit more expensive than most other places around Aber. A part of Aberystwyth is the uniqueness to the place I admit, so it’s nice to see so many independent shops, cafes and restaurants. However, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t chain stores about (WH Smiths, Poundland, Costa and various supermarkets to name a few). We live in a globalising world, and it’s unfortunate, but it does seem to be slowly catching up with Aberystwyth.

The big deal I think about the fact Starbucks is coming, is the effect and representation which the brand has on people. Firstly, people consider the experience of getting a Starbucks coffee something entirely different to an experience with any other ordinary coffee. This is in fact the key to Starbucks marketing; selling the ‘experience’ of buying coffee and the ‘Starbucks brand’, which allows them to charge higher prices. Secondly, Starbucks is one of the largest companies in the world and what has been termed as the “Starbucks Effect” has become a growing concern to many. The “Starbucks Effect” refers to new competitors that force businesses to reconsider how they do things. Do people want to be part of the Starbucks brand and invest in that ‘coffee experience’ that has become a global phenomenon? Will this and the arrival of large outlets Tesco and M&S drastically change the feel of our quaint little Welsh town?

The building that will soon become the new Starbucks. Photo - Alex Tanton

The building that will soon become the new Starbucks. Photo – Alex Tanton

It should be considered that the fact that Starbucks is coming to Aberystwyth shows that the towns economy is growing, with stores opening rather than closing. Hearty’s Diner is another coffee shop/diner that is opening up soon in Aber, and is aiming to use both global and regional sources to supply their store. There are other new arrivals to Aberystwyth; for example the new Wiff Waff bar (Project 11) opens its doors this week, and the upcoming Mill Street Development is finally moving forward. Unlike many towns that see a large number of stores lay vacant as a result of the recession and growth of online shopping, Aberystwyth has remained relatively vibrant. The new store will fill the old Dolphin fish and chip restaurant which has remained empty since June 2013. With the Starbucks store opening, there will be 20 jobs created for the town – which is definitely not a bad thing.

The polarisation of views with this topic come down to two distinct outlooks. The first viewpoint to consider is that globalisation opens doors, and the arrival of Starbucks gives people more choice. It can also be argued that there are lower costs due to the increase in competition. Alternatively, some believe that globalisation allows for larger companies and corporations to dominate the market and create a culture of ‘cloned westernisation’ everywhere.

The idea that the Aberystwyth will become a ‘clone town’ at face value looks to be true, as we will soon see more and more shops and stores that are in every other western town and city. However, something to consider is that major chains do take into account the local area and adapt to the local community. The new Starbucks store will be the first ever to have a Welsh language menu board for example.

People come to Aberystwyth and refer to the Aberystwythian ‘bubble’ – which can be both a blessing and a curse. The town is seen by many as an escape from the outside world, and therefore its uniqueness makes it what it is – the individuality of the shops in Aber make up the charm of the place. Yet, I’m sure many of you are looking forward to being able to partake in that ‘Starbucks experience’. Students are the most likely to look forward to the arrival of Starbucks in town, as they will be used to being able to head on down to their local Starbucks when they are at home. In my mind however the Starbucks up at the Students’ Union should suffice for that, and we don’t need another one.

I enjoy going to the unique shops and cafes of Aberystwyth and wouldn’t change that just because a brand I know to be good is coming to Aber. You can go anywhere in the world and find a Starbucks, but to experience the ‘Aberystwyth experience’ you have to go out there and explore the town yourself to find what Aber is really about.