Objections to a Caffé Nero in Dalkey are anti free-market
Published 25/07/2014 | 02:30
When I was a young nipper living in Dun Laoghaire, we were known as the Railway Children, kids from the south Dublin coastal belt, who took the train into Marian College on Lansdowne Road.
It was a motley crew, with other boys joining us at Glenageary, Monkstown, Blackrock and there was always a big Dalkey contingent. Like the rest of us, they were a real social mixture, very much at odds with the current view of privileged south side brats with Dort accents and designer clothes.
In fact, they reflected Dalkey's mixed legacy as an old fishing village with working class cottages and the dwellings of port workers from nearby Dun Laoghaire.
However, in recent years, the small seaside village, along with adjacent Killiney, has been transformed into 'Dalkey-sur-la-mer', a highly sought after oasis for celebrities and media people.
Famous residents include Bono, Neil Jordan and driver Eddie Irvine and apparently local pub, Finnegan's (recently visited by Michelle Obama) can be like the VIP room of RTE on certain nights, with British broadcasters Robert Fisk and the BBC's John Simpson also resident in the scenic area.
There is a lobster festival and a book festival and the whole place is now all very heritage and hanging basket.
But the new Dalkeyites would do well to remember the town's roots, as it draws controversy with attempts by some locals to prevent the opening of an international chain coffee shop on the town's main street.
Concerned residents, many of them other coffee shop owners (surprise, surprise) feel that the opening of Caffé Nero, would lower the tone and commercialise the intimate but upscale town.
According to an online petition, "the proposed development is a non-sympathetic disproportional protected structure, which would aggressively distort the nature of other local family businesses in our heritage town and distract from sustainable development, unbalancing local commercial business.
"This is contributing to the takeover of our local main street by corporate chains, while independent, community-based outlets go under."
This is a ridiculous assertion. As if the arrival of one coffee shop was going to turn Dalkey into Dundrum shopping centre!
By this criteria we should have stopped Lidl and Aldi from opening all over Ireland and offering better value to customers and yes, challenging the custom of local shops. That's market economics.
Granted, on one level, the Dalkey burghers are to be applauded for their desire to protect their village's image, and would that a similar concern was displayed by other more lacklustre Irish towns and villages.
But what this actually represents is social engineering and protectionism at its worst.
It suggests that a town cannot develop organically and of its own accord, but must be controlled.
It is also anti free-market and anti-competition and deprives customers of variety and choice, and you can be quite sure that not all Dalkey locals would hold a restrictive view of what's good for the town. And it's not as if the objectors are fighting the arrival of a McDonalds in the centre of their town, or the ubiquitous Tesco Express, which has created local resistance in the UK.
Caffé Nero is also a highly reputable outfit.
A family owned business, it is the biggest independent coffee retailer in Europe with more than 650 stores operating in seven countries.
It also recently opened its first store on Dublin's Merrion Row: a very necessary addition to what had become a retail dead-zone, right at the heart of our city.
This cafe created eight jobs, and Caffé Nero has plans to invest a further €20 million here over the next five years, creating up to 350 jobs across 40 stores.
So the Dalkey elitists should bear this in mind as they try to prevent the opening of new businesses.
And it's not as if Dalkey, however well-heeled some of its inhabitants, doesn't need the business.
Indeed, one of the reasons that economist David McWilliams created the Dalkey Book festival was because he was moved by the sharp decline of retail trade in the town. Dalkey may be like some rustic Long Island bolthole for some, but for others it is another struggling Irish town, with chip shops and empty retail spaces.
Far from ruining its image, a Caffé Nero could add to the town's prestige and add to the cash-rich footfall of locals and tourist alike.
Indeed, there are lessons from the Long Island experience in New York, where the famous Hamptons, similarly attractive to celebrities because of its low-key and rustic atmosphere, accepted the arrival of designer brand stores as good for the local economy and job creation.
I'm sure my old Dalkey friends from the railway days would agree.