Opinion: Does Howth really need a Starbucks?

American journalist disappointed to find the chain edging out local coffee shops

Why on earth, I wondered, does the village of Howth need American infiltration from United States’ based beans?

Why on earth, I wondered, does the village of Howth need American infiltration from United States’ based beans?

 

When I first arrived in Ireland I felt I had come home - not to a house I had known, but to a spirit I yearned to find. It was everywhere, even in the damp air. The granddaughter of Irish immigrants, I was reared in Boston. I had never been to Ireland; my ancestors came to the United States before I was born.

My son and I took a train to Galway and rented a bungalow in nearby Barna. Exploring the supermarket we were enthralled by the local food, with labels detailing the route from supplier to vendor.

We enjoyed a luscious lunch at Nourish, a café in the centre of the village. We savoured soups, served with brown bread, from a menu of sandwiches, salads and quiches, which included Clonakilty chicken, Connemara smoked salmon and goat cheese from Fivemiletown.

When my son went back to the United States, I stayed, travelling the trains through the midlands and exploring the coast. I loved the country’s emphasis on locally sourced products, from its meat, fish, cheese and breads to the infamous Tullamore Dew.

But now I fear the Emerald Isle is in danger of surrendering some of it originality, its inimitable Irish identity.

I landed in Ireland again three months ago, settling into a cosy Airbnb in Howth, on a quiet street of row houses. The geraniums in the window boxes still flourished, impervious to the elements, like much of the village inhabitants.

The mellow sound of flutes wafted through the air as I sauntered down Main Street, past McDermott’s Pharmacy, the florist and butcher. Winding towards the waterfront, chilled from the drizzle, I stopped in at a place next to the gym and yoga studio called The Grind. The chalk board announced healthy food and drinks, including “the best coffee in Howth.”

John, the affable owner from Santry, runs the place with his friend Darragh, who is from Artane. John told me he serves an Irish brand of coffee that has its roasting roots in a Dublin apartment.

“People love. It,” he said, explaining he just his opened his cafe weeks ago.

John said he didn’t have any formal training in marketing and credited the café’s early success to friendly service and his posts on Facebook.

But then a cloud crossed his face. “I hope it continues,” he said. “ We just learned a Starbucks is coming to the village. Insomnia is already here,” he told me, referring to an Irish based group of coffee shops that opened a café in Howth.

During my walk back to my Airbnb the flutes had stopped playing. The lights and colourful cheer in the local shop windows didn’t brighten my spirits. I had spent the day sampling the authentic charms of a fishing village that has existed for centuries. In every shop, no matter with whom I spoke, I felt local pride. I wondered why the community was succumbing to Starbucks.

I prefer small locally owned shops to big business, especially for food. It’s good for the economy and the quality is usually better.

I’d rather drink coffee, nibble and relax at an independent café than at a corporate conglomerate like Insomnia. But at least Insomnia is an Irish company.

Why on earth, I wondered, does the village of Howth need American infiltration from United States’ based beans?

The next day I stopped by the Howth tourist booth near the pier and asked the woman handing out brochures if a Starbucks was really coming to Howth.

“We won’t know until they’re actually here,” she announced to my astonishment, drawing to mind comparison to other invasions. Sensing my displeasure, she added, “There’s really nothing we can do about it.”

Back in Nerja Spain, where I now spend most of my time, I told Adam, the Irish owner of “The Good Stuff Café, that I’d been to Howth.. He grimaced when I mentioned Starbucks and the tourist representative’s claim the village had no choice.

He told me the city of Nerja, a resort destination popular among Europeans, had successful blocked both Starbucks and McDonald’s from competing with its restaurants and cafes.”It can be done,” he said.

I don’t know much about Irish politics that govern such things, but even huge corporate entities depend upon consumers for profit. Without them, it is impossible for a business to continue.

Starbucks opened in Howth in late January.

I hope the next time I visit Howth I will still be seduced by its local charms. I want to believe that John and Darragh will be flourishing at The Grind because Irish people appreciate the purity of the personal touch.

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