First Costa, now Waterstones could be final straw for sleepy Southwold

Book chain opens ‘incognito’ store but says it will fit in with Suffolk town’s traditional old-world feel

Arts Correspondent

Southwold prides itself on being a quintessentially English seaside resort, with the smell of malt from the Adnams brewery drifting across the beachfront, just a short walk from a high street of traditional shops in buildings that date back centuries.

Yet residents of the picturesque Suffolk town, dubbed “Kensington-on-sea”, fear it may lose its unique flavour as chain stores and restaurants target its traditional high street – they fought bitterly against the arrival of Costa Coffee two years ago, but now another big brand looks set to sneak in to the street in disguise.

The opening of the Southwold Bookshop next month should be welcome for a town that hosts an annual literature festival but has had no book store since 2011. But what looks like an independent shop is actually a branch of Waterstones, the first time the national chain has opened a store incognito.

Inquisitive locals have been peering through the window on the site of the old tourist information office, wondering what the builders are up to.

One resident, Jenny Pope, backed the move, saying: “It would be very nice to have a bookshop again. I have no problem with Waterstones coming in.” Another said the move was “a bit disingenuous, but I could think of more offensive businesses”.

The issue could yet prove controversial, however. John Perkins, secretary of Southwold and Reydon Society, said of mainstream chains moving in: “You’re unpicking the high street, driving local people out and driving up rents. You’ll get national chains and that’s it.

James Daunt, of Wa terstones, said ‘We are not trying to hoodwink people’ James Daunt, of Waterstones, said ‘We are not trying to hoodwink people’
“There’s a gradual erosion of what gives this town its unique flavour. The small shops and businesses will disappear. Waterstones is just the latest ramification of that.”

But Waterstones managing director, James Daunt, promises it would be a “quintessentially local bookshop” adding it would be designed to fit in. “We’re not trying to hoodwink people,” he said. “We aren’t pretending it’s something else. Can a chain run a truly independent shop? I think it can.”

Mr Daunt knows the area intimately and regularly holidays in the town. He even signed the petition protesting against Costa. “I don’t actually like the identikit chain and absolutely sympathise with that resistance. I hope everything I’m doing is about making our shops more individual,” he said. “If we put a bog-standard Waterstones in there it would be pretty dispiriting. As a quasi-resident I wouldn’t welcome that.”

The town’s population swells from fewer than 1,000 to as many as 8,500 with summer day-trippers, and the local community is keen to preserve the appeal. Simon Tobin, deputy town mayor, said: “We’re passionate about keeping it as traditional as possibly but you have to move forward. I like that Waterstones have understood the importance of a traditional market town.”

The independent shops lining the 800 yards of high street, often marked by a “My Southwold” sticker, are among the most popular in town, – from the clothes shop Collen and Clare to the delicatessen, Nutters of Southwold.

Yet chains have been creeping in. Beyond the high-street banks and supermarkets, such stores as Jack Wills and Crew Clothing are visible. The old department store is now a Fat Face clothing shop.

Many saw Costa as the final straw. Almost 75 per cent of locals wrote to the council to protest, and their defeat runs deep. Many refuse to use it and Costa can hardly be described as doing a roaring trade.

The scrabble for desirable shop space has indeed seen rents hiked and independent businesses forced out. The site of the Blue Lighthouse family-run restaurant now sits empty after they were priced out. The All Pets Pet Supplies shop saw its rent triple, and now Brian Bensley and Wil Cook run operations from a market stall twice a week.

However, it appears Waterstones is being cautiously welcomed for now because there is no competition – whereas Costa marched into a town with 19 other coffee shops.

Guy Mitchell, the chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce who also runs the post office, said: “Waterstones have taken on board the fact that the residents don’t want big brands. We should feel pleased that at least the chains are recognising that.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Small Family Accountancy Practi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - OTE £50,000

£18000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is recruiting for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager / Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B software supplier, spe...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Application Analyst - Data, SQL

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing SaaS (Softwar...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence