Does coffee culture in town centres contribute towards the visitor experience?
Is coffee culture good for town centres? The arrival of a branch of Coffee #1 in Chippenham recently has caused a bit of a stir. As you can imagine, social media got more than a bit grumpy with “yet another coffee shop” wondering why “we can’t have some proper shops” and that soon the town would be nothing but “cafes, phone shops and charity shops.”
Irrespective of the fact that some of the debate online highlighted that the town actually does have a good mix of clothes shops, toy shops, independents and national chains, it got me to thinking why coffee shops (or cafes as we surely used to call them?) are on the rise, given that this trend also seems to be reflected where I live in Kings Heath, Birmingham, where we have seen at least half a dozen new coffee shops in the last year (Coffee #1 among them).
- Over 70 million cups of coffee are drunk every day in the UK
- Despite this, the UK still has one of the lower levels of coffee consumption in Europe
- A little over three years ago, there were nearly 17,000 coffee shops across the UK – this number growing at a rate of 7% year on year
- Between 1993 and 1997, the number of coffee shops in the UK increased by 847% (it seems that the students of the 90’s are largely to blame for the coffee culture of today!)
- Pubs in the UK are still closing at a rate of 29 per week (down from 31 a couple of years ago)
Add to this an increase in disposable income, in spite of the austere times in which we live, high streets fighting back as places to go rather than simply to shop in, and the coffee shop industry itself becoming more committed to quality and it’s easy to see why the UK is addicted to coffee.
So is coffee culture good for town centres?
All of which leads me to think that the reason for the rise of coffee culture in our towns and cities is a reflection of what we in BIDs and place management have been saying for the last year or so, that places need to offer experience as well as shopping to encourage visitors.
While those managing places are increasingly focusing on giving visitors reasons to come into town that are not directly related to retail, coffee shops are offering warm, relaxed and informal environments where people can meet up in groups large and small for all sorts of reasons from mum and baby groups to business meetings. They are becoming the new hubs of our communities and as such the growth, variety and quality of coffee shops up and down the country is set to continue.
Personally, although I enjoy a cup of coffee, I’m not often to be found in a coffee shop anywhere, but I do think that if these establishments are offering our visitors one more reason to venture into town, that this must be a good thing that everyone else running businesses there can benefit from.
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