The story of a small town’s battle against a coffee shop heavyweight
PUBLISHED: 13:53 18 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:59 18 May 2019
© Archant 2012
In early 2012, campaigners embarked on an unrelenting mission to prevent a national chain from moving into their town.
Plans for a Costa Coffee shop on Southwold High Street prompted an outcry, with hundreds of residents signing a petition and submitting objections to Waveney District Council (WDC).
Initially WDC rejected the application, citing detriment to the "viability and vitality" of the town centre.
People power had prevailed, the battle was won - or so they thought.
The applicant argued the decision was "not reasonably related to planning" and resubmitted.
This time the firm got its way and, in 2013, Costa became Southwold's very first chain coffee shop.
Six years down the line and the Costa has now closed, but why was the war to prevent it from opening in the first place so hard-fought, so vigorously contested?
Some said it was snobbery, but resident Jessica Jeans argues it was about being proud of the town's individuality.
"The overwhelming concern was that a national chain would not only change the character of the town, but also drive up rent," said Ms Jeans.
"No local business can pay the kind of rents we're dealing with these days. It needs the town council to own the property or for local landlords to be sympathetic to independent retailers."
Will Windell, another ardent objector, believes it was always clear what Costa's arrival would mean for the town.
"Southwold was once full of independent businesses," he said. "But when people started building big extensions, national chains became the only companies who could afford the rent.
"We knew if Costa got in it would start a whole rush of brands and that's exactly what it did.
"What happens now is our high street starts to look like any other and we lose that individuality."
With the coffee heavyweight departing, jam maker Wilkin and Sons is set to open a Tiptree tearoom - "the kind of thing people who come to Southwold will use", according to Mr Windell.
The reasons for Costa's closure remain unclear, but Ms Jeans suspects it struggled to cope with Southwold's economy.
"Dealing with a visitor economy is difficult because there is either a flood of people in summer or a drought in winter," added Ms Jeans.
"The most successful businesses are the independents that are community-oriented in the drought periods. They attract local people and, in turn, local people support them.
"Costa was never going to be profitable because it simply didn't have that local support."
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