Coffee: It’s a multi billion dollar a year business and we’re addicted to it. More specifically, we’re addicted to the caffeine with just about the same intensity with which we’re enslaved to our phones and the Internet (but I digress).
‘The cafe’ has long been an important part of the urban fabric, especially in Europe. Traditionally, cafes exist as casual and welcoming walk in places where you could spend a brief amount of time on your way to somewhere else. They still are, but over the last few decades, we’ve seen a massive proliferation of cafes in North America and beyond with large brands like Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Second Cup and others battling it out in the streets for coffee market dominance. No, this isn’t news as we know that while this caffeine fueled competition has actually been good for the overall economy, the casualty in fact is not just quality coffee, but the very survival of the independently owned local cafe.
In cities like Portland, New York or Montreal for example, there are some neighborhoods which do have a healthy indie coffee culture that promotes and helps local cafes to thrive. In city centers though, where the rents tend to be much higher, you are more likely to see big chains, and it’s the big chains like Starbucks which are the ones who can afford the exorbitant rent, and so we end up with less choice as a community. The irony of course is that Starbucks began as an independent chain before becoming the Goliath that they are today. When you look at the sheer number of Starbucks locations (over 26,000 in 2017), Starbucks can easily be called the McDonalds of coffee shops. It’s gotten to an obscene level, with multiple locations opening up within spitting distance of each other. This goes way beyond the concept of healthy competition but honestly, as a public company, we wouldn’t expect the brass at Starbucks to just stop at 26,000 shops and say, “All right people, we’ve made enough money so we’re going to stop here! Everyone ok with that?”
That’s never going to happen.
So what can one do? My feeling as a citizen is that it is your responsibility to spread the wealth across the counters of different business owners, with a preference towards supporting local, independently owned shops or smaller chains. This goes for not just supporting your local cafes but also local hardware stores, markets, convenience stores, and so on. You may end up paying a little bit more for some items and in fact, you may even get shitty service. But, you will be experiencing variety while breathing life into your city and hey, you may even benefit from the extra movement and activity your body requires by doing errands in multiple places.
And so, we challenge you to seek out and support your local cafes. Yes, seek them out and find them and also, be realistic and prepared to have some mediocre to outright bad coffee. This is all part of the experience in being brave and fearless while also supporting independent business owners. You will eventually, in your journey, discover quality over the predictable and by supporting local business you will be creating and sustaining a healthy and diverse neighborhood.