There has been much debate in the local press about the forthcoming Riverside Cinema complex in Bedford. Even our dear Bedford Clanger had something to say about it. It got me thinking about the whole issue of local, independent & quirky versus mainstream. In Bedford we don’t really have Arthouse cinema and for many the thought of another mainstream cinema, complete with “chain store” restaurants, when there’s already a cinema showing little other than blockbusters, spells doom to those who hope our town to be something other than a clone town.
The reality is possibly a little more complex than that however. Cambridge has plenty of quirky shops, Arthouse cinema, interesting theatres and music venues. It also has a Wagamama's, Pret a Manger, millions of Costas (well I presume it does, after all we have at least 5 of those in Bedford!) and all the other well known shops and restaurants that most towns offer. I personally have always shirked formulaic restaurants where much is prepared off premises. However, since having given up various things like dairy products and carbs, I know I can always eat something if there’s a Pret. So I guess these “chain stores” have their place. Realistically it’s often what draws people to a town or city to shop and entertain themselves. But what marks places out as interesting is not these places - after all, they’re ubiquitous. What gives a town its USP in terms of shopping (local landmarks aside) is the independents, its what helps it feel special and unique. So by all means, go to Argos for your toaster or Homebase for your garden furniture, but remember us little independent stores for that which makes you feel special and unique.