University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Rage against the caffeine

The Badger

ByThe Badger

Oct 13, 2008
A rally outside Starbucks in St. James Street, Kemptown
A rally outside Starbucks in St. James Street, Kemptown

On bustling St James’s Street in Brighton, the epicentre of controversy and debate lies not in some right-winged abortion clinic or explicit sex store, but rather, in your average Starbucks coffee shop. The St James’s Starbucks, one of eight Starbucks in Brighton, has been the topic of dispute since it opened illegally in May.

The building, which was originally a book shop, has been granted permission to become a retail store, but not a coffee shop. Dismissing these permits, Starbucks started renovation on the location even before the Brighton and Hove council planning chiefs could decide on the issue.

Council planning chiefs reached the decision that Starbucks could not open on the basis that it is a coffee shop, not a retail store. The coffee giant defended itself by saying it offers a vast inventory of music, sandwiches and coffee mugs, and could therefore not be defined as just a shop that sells coffee. By claiming it is not just a coffee shop, Starbucks has been granted a six-month stay of execution by the council planning board.

Thousands of Brighton locals have expressed negative attitudes towards the particular Starbucks, as they think the unique, local-business atmosphere of Saint James’s Street will be threatened by the massive chain stores that are starting to emerge. “Many of the local businesses I have spoken to feel very strongly that a Starbucks cafe would threaten the viability of their businesses, and ultimately the unique character of the whole street,” says Queens Park Green city councillor, Rachel Fryer.

Moreover, Brightonians are angered by the disregard Starbucks displayed towards the local planning board and renovating even before any sort of decision was made. Says Rachel Fryer: “That someone can commence building works, and even theoretically open for business, before they have permission to do so makes a farce of the planning system and undermines the power of communities and local authorities.”

The opening of the Starbucks witnessed various acts of protest and vandalism. When the café first opened, the locks were super-glued, making it impossible for anyone to get inside. Moreover, the windows have been targeted by bricks and mud on several occasions, and opponents to the Starbucks have vandalized the bathrooms in numerous ways. Adversaries of the chain express their feelings by holding protests outside the building every Saturday afternoon.

Facebook has also served as a popular form of protest against the coffee shop, with over fifteen hundred people joining a group condemning the illegal opening and the contamination of the local culture. The wall of posts is mostly filled with radical statements slamming the establishment, and praising the local charm St James’s Street. Despite the opposition expressed towards it, apathy seems to be the overriding feeling regarding the Starbucks.

On the street, most people simply stated how they don’t care, and that it doesn’t necessarily affect them personally. Furthermore, a few people have actually taken defensive positions regarding the issue. An anonymous source stated: “Seriously, if Starbucks wasn’t in there, who would be? Would just be another empty shop.” A lady named Jane spoke positively of the corporation by saying “It really is just a lovely place to relax after work and have a cup of tea. I personally believe the Starbucks will do more good than harm to the community.”

The employees at the Starbucks explained that they work there because it is a decent job and the company treats them well. They say that the protestors only target the property and not the actually people that work there. “They don’t blame us, they blame Starbucks,” says one of the workers.

The community of St James’s Street is concerned for the future of independent retailers. Mr Barrenechea, a local business owner said “A corporation such as Starbucks is likely to increase rentals which would put further pressure on local businesses. There are already 12 coffee outlets in St James’s Street so to have yet another, particularly of this size, is unsuitable and could cause some to go out of business.”

Starbucks was founded in Seattle, Washington in 1971. Currently, it operates 15,012 coffeehouses in 44 different countries. It is the largest coffeehouse chain in the world.

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