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marko anyfandakis
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'The difference each dollar makes'

Posted by marko anyfandakis over 11 years ago

Marko Anyfandakis discovers that a city can only grow and become what you want it to if you feed and nurture it.

´´The difference a dollar makes``


Marko Anyfandakis discovers that a city can only grow and

become what you want it to if you feed and nurture it.



I woke up earlier than usual the other day, got up, cycled to work and ended up having 20 minutes to spare before my shift. I didn’t know the area and without a second thought I set my self a mission to find a decent cup of coffee,. Lucky me, just around the corner there was a coffee shop, one of those franchise ones you can always trust to get fairly good coffee. Not to my surprise, as I made my way in, the long cue of business men waiting on their early morning hit of caffeine put me off and I decided to pursue my mission further down the road. Less than 10 steps away, a small discreet entrance to an ally way with a hand written sign reading ´café Komodo´ caught my attention and made me stop. As if under a spell I automatically followed the sign down the ally way between an array of overgrowing flowerpots and colourful mosaics laid out on either side of the narrow passage. At the end, an arched entrance to what seemed like a private home finally turned out to be the door of café Komodo. Wow, what an unexpected little peace haven amongst all these banks, bustling streets and franchise cafes! What an unusual place to stumble across at this time of the day! I was overwhelmed by the change of atmosphere I suddenly felt, and as I eagerly asked the smiling lady behind the counter for that long waited cup of coffee, I realized how grateful I was for not joining the cue with those business men.

So what exactly is it that makes this café a special place, for me at least? Well, to be honest, it definitely wasn’t just the coffee. Maybe it was the unexpectedness of finding such a place, the startling contrast with its surroundings, or the modest yet intriguing entrance to it, who knows. Maybe it’s just me. People probably pass by it everyday without even noticing its existence as they zoom by the hand written sign at the entry. Others who might notice it and even go as far as turning into the ally way and through the arching entrance might not think much of it and rather do 10 more steps and get their coffee elsewhere instead. I am the first to agree that we all have different tastes and I respect that whole heartedly. After all there is enough choice and variety out there to satisfy everyone’s needs and desires. Isn’t there?

Off course there is. On one single high street in my city you’ve got that red café with the comfy leather sofas for a long lasting relaxing coffee, then you’ve got that other place with the tropical touch to it, the other one next to the big supermarket with exotic coffee producer faces all over the wall for the more ´conscious´ fair trade drinkers, that fancy one with the quick service espresso take aways for rushing passer buyers! Surely that’s more that enough for one street!

And then you go to the next shopping area where you’ve got another four or five to choose from, the red one again, the fancy one, no fair trade one this time, and another new casual one with big wooden benches instead of tables. Next town, same variety, with the exact same sofas, same coffee mugs, and seems like maybe even the same staff working there. That’s interesting, totally different bunch of people in this other town, yet they seem to have identical taste when it comes to choosing their cup of coffee. Makes you wonder, maybe there isn’t that much choice out there after all!

This lack of choice doesn’t seem to be restricted to the world of coffee lovers, admittedly that would still be bearable. It overarches all of our consumer habits, from supermarkets to gas stations, hair dressers to cinemas. Every single town, with few exceptions, seems to offer the exact same dull, standardized products and services which we as consumers have had to get used to and probably don’t even notice anymore that in reality there is a very worrying lack of difference, color and originality.

What’s more, there is something not quite truthful about such standardized places, something disloyal to their locality, as their story does not tell you anything in particular about the place that they are in. Surely a chain supermarket or a franchise café aren’t things you’d find in the lonely planet guide to your city, are they? Would you really tell your friends overseas about them when describing the place you live?

Some would probably call this ever growing tendency towards sameness and standardization merits of modernizations, others might condemn it as inevitable effects of a globalised world. I, somewhat naively, just see it as lack of creativity!

And that’s why Café Komodo is so special. The originality of such a lovely colourful café is what ads life and vibrancy to an otherwise dull city setting. It is places like this that give a city its character, its charm, its identity. Café Komodo is a truly local place, and this localness and creativity invested into the running and maintenance of Komodo café is a worthy thing that needs your support in order to survive in a concrete jungle where many bigger predators reside.

It is only a local café that will promote the emerging local bands and maybe employ a local artist to design its menu card and allow posters and flyers from local shows, events, garage sales and markets to be hung up on the wall. It’s the owner of café Komodo with the help of your spare dollar that is going to redecorate his ally way every now and then and maybe even turn a blind eye when you tell him you forgot your wallet at home as he shakes up your favorite drink before you’ve even asked for it.

Although franchise stores and multinational supermarkets may employ local people, there is absolutely nothing local about these places. They just sell you stuff from far away and what you give them in return ( i.e. your dollar) vanishes into a distant cyber world that you will certainly never hear of again. By no means is local support included in their mission statement and if you ever try asking a franchise café if they would mind selling the certified fresh juices made locally, they would, at best of times direct you to senior management, which just happens to be in another country! As for arranging an open mic event in their premises, that’s just out of the question! So at the end of the day, even if what the big guys offer you is marginally cheaper than the local bloke around the corner, is it really worth not investing an extra two or three dollars in making your neighbourhood a bit more lively?

This was all reflected in the fact that the air in café Komodo smelt somewhat different, reaching into my pocket to grab my spear change didn’t’t feel as dull and mundane as it usually does. Paying for that cup of coffee was actually something meaningful that I did with great pleasure, it was an honour to help these guys out and I felt like I was actually taking part in making my city a greater place to be.

So its the small business retailers struggling to survive in the streets of our cities, the eccentric comic book man, the creepy woman in the antique book store, the funky recycled clothes shop next to the tiny bonsai store, and the smiling lady behind the counter in café Komodo, that make our localities special. You see, small business, unlike the big guys, works from the bottom up, so the character they add to the city we live in and their contribution in creating real lively local communities relies solely on our active choice to support these guys. To them, the occasional customer that chooses to shop in their store is a matter of business survival, to the chain store in the shopping center, it is just one more sale registered in a humongous data base. The choice is yours.

I guess it must seem far fetched to claim that by enjoying that cup of coffee at Komodo´s, I was actually changing the world. Well, in fact, simple economic theory of supply and demand has shown us that this statement is true in every sense; not only did I change the economic relations of a global network of interactions, I also affected everything ranging from the aesthetics of my city to the amount of coffee plantations in Kenya!

Surprise! Changing the world is not only for the disillusioned rebels and altruistic dreamers amongst us, It is actually something we all partake in each moment of our economically active lives. Every single dollar that leeks through our pocket is equivalent to saying ‘ I want this product, or whatever it is we are spending the dollar on, to be a part of this world’. So if you think your neighbourhood or town is being flooded with junk food chain stores and uninteresting clothes shops selling the same old stuff you find in pretty much every city of the world, well I’m sorry to say, but its partly your fault. Why? Simply because these products are only there if there is a demand for them! So while big multinational stores gradually invade every town and village on the face of the earth, the coffee shop with the beautiful ally way is struggling to collect a few surviving ‘votes’ from the occasional human being that still enjoys his freshly brewed coffee with a pinch of originality in it.

Its quite a slap in the face, living our seemingly unnoticed mundane city lives everyday, alienated through the insignificance of our little daily actions and suddenly realizing the sheer magnitude of even the smallest of our consumer choices. How empowering it feels being aware of the rippling effect of our decisions! Lets actively choose to engage in the creative process of reconstructing our city dwellings by supporting those bakers, craftsmen, farmers and cooks etc that are truly local, the ones that give that little extra touch to making our city a tiny winy bit more bearable. And as we take our friend to these places, and our friends take their friends, then maybe one day our cities will become real local communities, beaming with creativity, life and colour, perfectly tailored to the taste and preferences of every single one of its members!




















Comments (2)

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Rebekah Copas
Rebekah Copas : I think you may find, that the whole economy of coffee, in fact depends on small cafe Komodo style coffee shops, spread more sparsely around than franchised shops have to be. The clue is in the fact of how franchises inevitably all wind up in copycat mode, copying the smaller businesses who stick our their neck to base business on decent human minded principals. Without constantly observing the successes (and failures) of such small businesses, big franchises don't know which way to turn when next they revamp their decor and menu. Here's to every small business which struggles to stay afloat, and have begun to prove that businesses which ecological concerns, are the ones which every other business will need to follow to survive the Global Financial Collapse.
Posted over 11 years ago

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