‘Keep smiling and you’ll win the battle’

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THE decision by Edinburgh City Council to grant permission for another coffee shop is unsurprising.

When Costa Coffee opens in what is currently a bathroom store in Morningside Road, it will be the 58th coffee outlet within one mile of Morningside.

The desperation of independent traders is understandable and concerning.

Morningside and Bruntsfield have been thriving areas of the city, which can boast many and unusual independent retailers. They both have shops you cannot find elsewhere and so have become a shopping destination, even for those who live in other parts of the Capital.

That is under threat, there is no doubt. If the main street is taken over by multiples then its unique status will be lost.

But how best do we stop this happening?

The planning system was not set up to make decisions between an independent retailer or a large multiple. Why should we reject a Starbucks but accept a local coffee house? However, the council should have a role in ensuring that there is an appropriate mix of retailers in an area. Fifty eight places to buy coffee within one mile is OTT.

The small businesses themselves also have a role, however. Consumers will spend their money where they believe they will find best value.

For many, the lure of a familiar high street brand name is enough. But good businesses fight back.

It’s not just about price. It’s about friendliness. And local know- ledge. And niche products. And advice.

Many independent retailers easily trump the multiples on these points. They must keep doing so. And they must shout about it. If they do, consumers will respond.

The success of Morningside and Bruntsfield thus far is testament to this.

Who wants a cup of coffee from a chain served by a surly 20-something on minimum wage? Many of us would prefer the smile of a person who understands and cares about their customers.

While that happens, the independents will keep on winning their battle.