To inform entertain and excite my kids, Jamie, Patrick, Aaron & Sarah Middleburgh, our family and friends.

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Middleburgh Reconsiders Starsucks

The Lo Wu experience

This week it was reported that Starbucks (SBUX)is buying out its partner of 7 years in China and is looking to seriously ramp up mainland operations.

I have mixed feelings about this. I have specific reservations about "globalisation" in the retail sector. I recognise that liberalization of trade has the potential to alleviate poverty, create wealth and opportunities for primary producers and manufacturers, in under developed countries. However, in my opinion, the US and EU whilst playing lip service to Free trade, effectively operate a range of non tarrif trade barriers to penalize non domestic importers and preference multi national conglomerates HQ'd in their countries. This consolidation of power into relatively few retail companies is disturbing.

When I was younger and travelled, the places I went to were not globalized. Whilst it may not have been efficient local shops sold local produce and supported local industry ; restaurants served local food and drinks. Nowadays global retailers are pervasive and everywhere is becoming the same. The Global retailers would argue that they are demand driven giving consumers what they want at affordable prices. An example would be IKEA meeting the burgeoning demand for Swedish meatball and spuds in Hong Kong. In reality their dominance of the retail market place marginalises smaller players ultimately reduces the diversity of consumer choice (where, what and from whom to buy) except at premium prices. It has a similar in effect to retailing as reduced biodiversity has to animals and plants and reduced language diversity to culture . It makes the world a poorer and certainly less interesting place in which to live and I am not even convinced that primary producers necessarily benefit Starbucks and Ethiopia

When I visited London in 2004 I was horrified to find, walking from St Paul’s to Trafalgar Square that every other shop was a “STARSUCKS” and wherever there was a “STARSUCKS” there lurked a “BENNIES” (wasn’t he a character in Crossroads?). They had replaced the sarnie shops and greasy spoons which used to be there before the newspapers had relocated from Fleet Street and were clearly filling a similar function to HK noodle bars and Japans Ramen Shops

We do have Starsucks and it's doppleganger Pacific Coffee but generally I have consciously avoided them as if they were plague houses with one notable exception .....

Starbucks at LO WU

Lo Wu is the 'main" border crossing with China. Tucked away in a corner by the "meeting area" on the Hong Kong side as you cross from the mainland is a small and frankly shabby Starbucks. I don't say this in a pejorative sense since its shabbiness is almost homely and totally in keeping with the Lo Wu environment. It fits in perfectly and because it didn't project the Starbucks corporate persona I crossed its threshold and ordered before I realized where I was.

There comes a time when you have to make a call as to whether principles out weighs physical necessity. For me this was that moment and now nearly every trip back from China I stop off at the Lo Wu Starbucks to partake of my Latte and Ozzy meat pie with ketchup whilst people watching before continuing my onward journey home. The customers are such a sophisticated bunch .. like the girl who was so keen on the bargin shoes she bought in Shenzen she couldn't wait to wear them....

And the staff.... well I have found them to be courteous, friendly, efficient and welcoming and they are to be commended to their management and the HK Tourist Board/HK Association for Customer Service Excellence. It has become a high spot of my return journeys even outweighing the thrill of going through Chinese immigration but that's another story......

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