If you have a life, you probably missed one of last week’s big Irish political Twitter debates: whether the arrival of Pret A Manger on our shores will corrupt us with his open market sandwiches and kill our native cafes.
n the weekend we certainly had reached the “Why are you still talking about this?” Phase.
But it was insightful in its own way. For all the animosity over Pret, our beef with it feels less like a serious battle of ideas and more like online posturing between people with way too much time
Pret A Manger – the British coffee and sandwich chain – is set to open its first Irish store on Dawson Street in a Dublin looking pandemic-tired and sad.
Irish cities have been hardest hit by Covid, with infection rates soaring in Dublin’s poorest postcodes.
The pandemic has forever changed the way we live and shop, and even now, post-Covid, we can expect our cities and town centers – and how we interact with them – to be different.
Plans to set up an Irish branch for Pret had been put in motion prior to the pandemic but had to be put on hold. Now, two years later, they are back on track. The company wants to open up to 20 branches here in the next few years. And it’s not as if the independent cafes complaining that Pret stole their lunchtime trade don’t make sense.
It would be a shame if every high street here looked like every high street in Britain, if local shops were taken over by meaningless international brands, the same shops that are repeated on every high street worldwide.
For those concerned about the increasing power of global brands and the changes our culture and eating habits are bringing about, the arrival of yet another food chain is unsettling. After all, homogeneity is homogeneity.
But I’m not worried about the homogenization anymore. Visiting a shopping street used to be a splendid hustle and bustle, the coolest shops.
Today, Henry Street and Grafton Street are hollowed out by high rents and lockdowns.
The legendary Pen Corner was another casualty this week. There aren’t enough vape and phone shops left to fill the gaps. And none of this is Pret’s fault.
All the usual suspects are to blame: competition from online shopping, brick-and-mortar rents and rates, working from home and falling consumer confidence as we wait and see where inflation is headed, whether Covid makes a comeback and whether Putin takes us all to war.
Well-managed smaller farms can still do well. There’s little evidence that Starbucks, Costa, or Caffe Nero have supplanted the independent coffee shop.
And those of us who say we hate Starbucks and want to stick with our single-tree Ethiopian roast should remember that the imminent arrival of Pret could make our cafes their game, a game very weary and boring has become.
You can predict what any new cafe will look like before it opens: the subway tiles, the blond wood furniture, the avocado on sourdough bread. Our cafes look the same. They taste the same. Each of them feels like a replica of the cafe down the street.
If our inner cities are to survive, they have to change. We must have a good reason to go there. We want impeccable customer service at every turn. If we don’t get it, we go home and buy the goods online.
For cities and town centers to stand a chance and work from home in the Amazon era, they need to be vibrant communities where people live. A plan designed to help convert more than 4,000 vacant spaces above shops into apartments is being included in Dublin’s next urban development. This must be implemented immediately and rolled out in all cities across the country.
If we get more people to move in, we might be pleasantly surprised at the volume and variety of businesses that emerge in newly populated areas. It will no longer look like the city as we know it, but it will breathe life into cities and inner cities that are increasingly appearing to be in dire straits.
Pret A Manger does not control any Irish town or locality. Our government and local authorities are doing this. I understand the need for rents and tariffs, but what good is it when our cities and towns raise tariffs so high that the small independent shops and restaurants fail and close?
I say bring prices down on small Indigenous cafes and retail spaces and let them thrive. The rest of us have a duty to go into town and spend our money there when we can.
And ultimately, it won’t be Pret or the high rents and prices that will cause your favorite indie cafe to fail, but the business itself.
The success of a store or cafe is not due to a government pumping money into it, but because the owner has spotted a gap in the market, filled it and consistently checked to make sure they are filling it with the right stuff that we actually want to buy.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/cut-the-rates-for-indie-cafe-joints-and-let-the-free-market-sandwich-pedlar-games-begin-41562107.html Drop indie cafe prices and let the open market sandwich dealer games begin