Having lived away from Edinburgh for a few years, one thing that strikes me being back is the massive number of chain coffee shops and ‘local’ supermarkets around the city centre. They are everywhere! Moreso than in many other UK cities, and most cities in the likes of Italy, Spain and Germany.
They are such a familiar sight in Edinburgh city centre and its fringes, it is easy not to question their purpose. Indeed, why question it – they offer excellent prices, great choice and long opening hours, right? The latter is true, and they can be a convenient option for, say, grabbing a jar of spice needed for a recipe, or a breakfast item for the next morning. Last minute stuff. But I’m not so sure about price and choice. The smaller Tesco Metros and Sainsbury’s Locals I live near do not sell any value products and when I’ve needed, say, a bottle of olive oil or a packet of mozzarella, there’s usually only one choice – the premium version – so not only are you not saving money, you probably spend more than intended.
Near where I used to live, in Newington, a second Sainsbury’s Local has opened within a short walking distance of one at the corner of Bernard Terrace, and a Tesco Metro on Causewayside. Do we need all of these?? There’s a great corner shop at the end of West Preston Street, that sells plenty of groceries, newspapers, wine, chocolate, fruit and so on. At the same or lower prices than the new, nearby Sainsbury’s Local. I know because I’ve done my own price comparison (I can be anal like that). The family working there are always really friendly and there’s never a queue.
And, though I have tried, the supposedly super-convenient self-service tills at supermarkets just don’t do it for me. There’s nearly always a delay, whether it’s the bag I’m reusing, because alcohol is being purchased, or that it just seems to be malfunctioning generally. And for all that they could save me approximately 1 minute (but never do), I’d rather have an interaction with another human being.
And as for chain coffee shops – unless you simply adore a particular concoction they sell – I can’t see why you’d consciously want to pay premium prices, nearly always queue, and sit in a not particularly nice atmosphere.
Yet, the more Edinburgh becomes saturated with chains, the more we get into a mindset that this is the only option. They are a safe choice, and, increasingly, the nearest option. Occasionally this is so and, don’t get me wrong, I still shop in them now and then.
But shouldn’t we try to balance our shopping habits? After all this city also has some great independents. The quality ones give us variety, character, choice, plus a satisfying experience as a consumer and member of the local community.
So in this blog, once a week, I’m going to highlight an independent business in central Edinburgh, detailing reasons they are worth a visit, plus sample prices. First up (in the next post): The Wee Boulangerie on Clerk Street.
Some may be well known, even thriving, places; others might be a little off the beaten track or somewhere I stumble upon by chance. And if you have a favourite cafe or shop you’d like highlighted, please email firstname.lastname@example.org