"'spoons is a business, and outside the arms trade and people smuggling, businesses are pretty much morally neutral."
A JD Wetherspoon recently opened in town: to the delight of the price-sensitive punters and the howling dismay of most of my fellow traders.
One of the other pubs, an Enterprise tenancy that aimed at the cost-conscious youth market, has already shut, blaming the "unfair competition".
So is that really the case? Are JDW really evil monopolists hellbent on destroying the poor independents and feeding crap food and cheap beer to the discerning masses?
Or are they a successful model that gives much of the population exactly what they want at a cracking price pretty much all day?
They were founded by a Bransonesque faux hippie ex-lawyer, so they must have a degree of evil. But joking aside, 'spoons is a business, and outside the arms trade and people smuggling, businesses are pretty much morally neutral.
If people want frozen, processed cheap food (and they manifestly do want that, as any high street will show you) and affordable drink leveraged by colossal purchasing power, that is what they will search for. And JDW provide.
It's called the marketplace and it knows no morals or friendships.
As independent traders, whether free or tenanted, we are afforded no protection from competition. This is the stark reality of business. And I know it isn't fair, but then what is? We are taxed to the bare bones, exploited by our landlords and the unbalanced contracts we willingly signed, but perhaps we are in it not only to make money but because we believe in what we do.
We could sell frozen scampi and microwaved jacket spuds with pre-grated cheese, but we have set out our stall to serve food made from scratch, from local, quality ingredients — not because it was trendy but because we mean it.
And if we fail, then so be it — it will be the public's choice. Competition may have an effect, but then so did we when we started out.
There is room for more than one type of pub in town.
Different groups of customers yearn for different experiences. We offer quality food in a comfortable environment, and have a regular clientele who we like.
They have all gone and looked at the new 'spoons and all but one have come straight back (we haven't missed him
There is freehouse that does great beers, a boozer that does lots of music events, a cliquey pub that hosts legendary beer festivals, a style bar and a few fringe places that subsist on regulars. And there is a place for us all most of the time.
We have suffered far more from the general lack of disposable income than from too much competition.
In a sense, Wetherspoons could be good for the town. Driving footfall onto a somewhat moribund high street may encourage entrepreneurs to open niche businesses — there is a lack of restaurants and the nightclub could re-open with a small investment. That would grow the numbers of the paying public and we all win.
Don't get me wrong, I won't become a 'spoons customer any day soon: I find them too large and impersonal. They have some decent wines at exceptional prices, but I go to pubs for real ale, which has always disappointed in Wetherspoons, — with the honourable exception of the Harrogate branch — and for real food.