Pret A Manger in St Andrews: cause for celebration or a blow to our town’s identity?

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Pret’s impending arrival is something we should all be thankful for.

By the end of the year, a little shop by the name of Pret A Manger will be gracing Market Street with its presence. Those familiar with its range of sumptuous sandwiches and salads, delicious drinks and chilled out atmosphere are quite rightly hailing it as the best addition to the town since Forgan’s.

For those less familiar; think Starbuck’s better-heeled cousin, with paninis that are actually edible.

Pret is finally coming and I for one am ecstatic about its arrival.

Among my friends, Pret’s arrival caused a bit of a stir. Even though “Yes, finally!” was a common response, so too was “Oh god, another chain?!” St Andrews already has its fair share of student favourite chains, ranging from Tesco to H&M to Nando’s and many more. Many ask if, on a street already packed with familiar chains, is another multi-national behemoth welcome?

To them I say this: absolutely, yes. In fact, we should be celebrating this – not solely because the chain is question is Pret but because its arrival means good things for St Andrews as a whole. Pret is a big brand with many shops dotted up and down the country, on top of expansion in North American and Asia, so that fact that they’ve chosen St Andrews, a relatively small town on the East coast of Scotland, as one of their new outlets is a pretty big deal. We’re a famously international university who routinely bring together nationality after nationality, culture after culture together seems only right that our high street reflects the internationalism of our community.

In any case, independent options abound across the town, from Cottage Kitchen to Taste. I reckon the thronging crowds come opening day will prove me right when I say many students still prefer Pret’s offerings.

For those still sceptical, especially about the effect of chains on the high-street, it must be remembered that this week has shown how vulnerable big brands can be, with the closing of Bibi’s Bakery and Bella Italia, two chains once integral to St Andrews. It been rumoured that Bella Italia could not afford the increasingly expensive rent of its lease, therefore not warranting another year in the centre of town with slimmer profit margins.

Even though the potential effect on independent, local shops is a legitimate concern, these closures still show that not even big chains are safe. When big brands come to small towns, it’s because they believe they’ll get sustainable, consistent business and a large customer base, especially considering the size of the potential Pret shop. We should be celebrating that such well-known, big brands want to come to this small, but obviously important, town on the East coast of Scotland.

That’s not to say that the small local shops will be drowning under the competition of nationwide known brands, we have our own local, independent gems. We have a fantastic array of coffee shops and cafés (Taste, Gorgeous, Beanscene just to name a few…), fast food outlets (Empire, Dervish, Courtyard…) and clothing shops like Elizabeth May. The loyalty that these shops have is unparalleled, certainly not to be rivalled by chains whose food is ubiquitous. These establishments are here to stay and are well-loved in many a St Andrean’s heart.

Pret’s arrival is something to be celebrated, whether it be from the perspective of our increasingly international reputation or, like me, the mere fact I will no longer be deprived the odd Crayfish sandwich or two during term time. Either way, it’s a great thing, so re-joice – Pret is coming!

Ellen Ridsdale

Chains like Pret are sucking the soul out of St Andrews, shop by shop.

As with any town the size of St Andrews, every business that lines each of our three main streets plays an integral role in setting the tone and feel of day-to-day life here.

It’s the authenticity and intimacy of our local businesses that make the St Andrews experience so unique. There is something really delightful about exploring all the peculiar shops and quaint cafes nestled along our cobbled streets.

There is something decidedly less delightful, however, about the comparative soullessness of mainstream chains such as Starbucks, Costa and, despite its best marketing efforts, the soon-to-arrive sandwich and coffee goliath, Pret A Manger.

It’s hard, then, not to feel remorse, or even guilt for the loss of two such friendly and familiar establishments as Bibi’s and Bella Italia, both of which closed their doors this week. The astoundingly expensive real estate market and the demands of our growing student body are undoubtedly to blame, and the sad truth is that big businesses are capitalizing on this while our local favourites have clearly suffered. With the arrival of chains such as Pret A Manger, which directly compete with the likes of Zest, Gorgeous, or Rocca, more small businesses may well meet with the same end. It’s inevitable that even the most loyal students will find themselves tempted by the standardised, guaranteed mediocrity of the brand name over lesser-known, potentially risky locally-run options.

I am ashamed to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered there was, in fact, a Starbucks here in my first week. It is undoubtedly comforting to sit in a place that has practically the same floor plan no matter where it is in the world, and will serve you exactly the same drink you’ve always ordered.

But that’s exactly the problem. One of the great appeals of St Andrews is that it is a refuge of sorts from the mainstream – a quirky and charming place at the edge of the earth that is uniquely ours.

With major chains like Pret A Manger taking an increasing strangle-hold on our little bubble, residents and students are left worse off for it, both financially and culturally. Let’s face it, Pret is astronomically expensive.

The recent news that Glass House, Doll’s House and Grill House are to be bought by the owners of Forgan’s, Mitchell’s and The Vic has only tightened the grip of large, externally owned groups on our streets. Those without the backing of a familiar brand name or expensive advertising budget are simply being bought out of the ring.

St Andrews’ local and independent businesses give so much to this town, yet often find themselves taken for granted, mourned only after they have shut up shop.

True, Nevada Bob’s may not exactly have been a student favourite (or any-one’s favourite, for that matter), but at least its faintly ridiculous name (and simply appalling window displays) added a modicum of character to Market Street.

The arrival of Pret now means you could buy a coffee at one chain cafe (Starbucks), grab a bite to eat at another (Pret) and meet a friend at Costa, all before that first coffee has had a chance to cool to a drinkable temperature.

So to those of you eagerly anticipating Pret A Manger’s arrival to this town, I say be thankful for what we have. Go and get a coffee from Taste, or a hot chocolate from Cottage Kitchen, look around you and just think about the fact that no other cafe in the world is the same as the one you’re sitting in.

That is the sort of thing that makes St Andrews the charming town that we all know and love, not these copy-paste chains.

So drink local, I say. It’s the tastiest way by far to stick it to the man.

Maddy Armstrong

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