Identity crisis?

SIR - I refer to a recent editorial: ‘Costa man James in Ship Inn restoration pledge’.

I love Costa coffee. I love Sidmouth. I love the architecture of the multiplicity of old buildings and houses in Sidmouth. I value the many independent retailers we have here, it’s the main attraction, I believe, that draws the people here year after year, many coming for memories of the past, the time warp that Sidmouth is embroiled in, so loved by John Betjeman, Jane Austen and others, and many for its simple way of everyday life. It’s not manufactured, nor manicured, not even restored to look as it did.

You get what you see in Sidmouth, polite people, a clean environment and just about any item of want in our wealth of small and enthusiastic shopkeepers. I applaud James’ intended restoration efforts, they will, I guess, be along the lines of Fat Face interior architecture, or, maybe next, Tim Weatherspoon’s, when as sure as chips are chips, a Weatherspoon’s pub will appear. “Costa will increase foot-fall to the town and surrounding traders will benefit” so says James. Ask the small traders if this was so in Dartmouth, or Totnes, or Kingsbridge when multinationals enter.

Yes, the foot-fall does increase, but the footfall of another unwelcome guest follows; the wrong type of visitor and the Rates Officer. Small shops in Dartmouth’s rates went up overnight from an average of �2,000 per unit to �20,000 per unit.

I know many of the folk who simply couldn’t afford the impact of a high rate on a seasonal and fluctuating income.

The other impact and more important change it will behold, is the creeping entrance of other multinational retailers who will also see the attraction of a Regency Gem. As smaller retailers vacate shop units they cannot maintain, with the effect of price and brand wars, more of their kind will be quick to occupy. Maybe the Balfour will become a Best Western, the Victoria a Whitbread’s, Fields a John Lewis.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these named retailers or brands, they are both the same, offer good and professional retailing and services, but, does Sidmouth want to lose its identity? If it does, be aware of the rapid change the town will take on and at a speed that will be breathtaking.

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Value your idiosyncratic and wide variety of shopkeepers Sidmouth, or become the next case for Mary Portas to regenerate.

Say no to Costa, to Fat Face, to The Mountain Warehouse, to Weatherspoon’s and their contemporaries, support; Fields, Trumps, Potburys, Osbournes and a whole host of other gems within our valuable, but fragile, retail community.

Alan Hickman

5 West Park Road, Sidmouth