The Emperor's New Clothes (28/10/12)

Surely you can't halt the onward march of the big business? Yes you can, says David Randall, if you follow the lead of the townsfolk of Totnes in Devon

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When it comes to shopping, as popular understanding has it, you can't fight big business. Mr Bun the Baker is all very well in his inefficient floury way, but he can't compete with Tesco, can he? He can't do croissants like Waitrose. There is no alternative. Local shops are poor, chain stores are good, and multinationals are better. Visit your nearest branch, or see our website. Sign up, select, check out, log off. And click here if you'd like us to email you with news of our regular offers.

The result is Identikit high streets, whole counties full of towns you've never visited, but where, if you did, you'd know in advance not only the names of the stores, but the contents of their windows and the prices of their stock. Stores that would have to put the staff in cerise catsuits and start giving goods away to surprise you. Chains whose profits don't stay local, but are sucked out of the area like juice from a fat fruit.

And they don't like the idea of exceptions. They've got whole departments poring over Google Earth and scanning Street View, looking for dissident towns. Searching for places that haven't conformed. And when they find one, they're in. There's a vacant shopfront in Trumpton, a spare bit of land in Camberwick Green. Quick, get the council jobsworths on the phone. Submit the plans. Move in. Set up. Cash in.

They found one recently in Devon. Totnes it was, and when they examined it, they could hardly believe their eyes. It had no Costa Coffee. Imagine! There was nowhere in this convenience beverage desert where you could pay £2.45 for a chain-store cappuccino! There were thousands of people there who had no loyalty card! Hundreds who'd never known the joys of a mass-produced, nationally available raspberry and almond slice! So the plans went in; the council said yes. But the consumers in Totnes had other ideas. They refused to accept it. They campaigned. They activated. And last week Costa Coffee made an extraordinary decision. In the light of the protests, they withdrew.

So, there is an alternative. Be local. Be proud. Be Totnes.

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