“A non-chain chain”

My latest fit of apoplectic rage has been gifted to me by the arrival of the bread shop Gail’s in Crouch End. The statement on their website is quite breathtakingly irritating:

Like our bread, we handcraft each GAIL’s shop to be unique and have its own personality. GAIL’s fits into its local environment, adapting to give the customers in each area what they really want or need: a bread shop in an area that is missing out on great bread, a calm place to chill out with young children, a place to come and use Wi-Fi and so on.

We like to think of ourselves as the non-chain chain. Although we do have a number of shops, we are against the “chain” mentality where each store looks exactly the same and the people are robots. We want our customers to take pleasure in visiting our shops, get to know our staff by name and feel a sense of community.

This is a fantastic example of cynical corporate Newspeak. To translate: a non-chain chain is Newspeak for what you and I would call a chain. The phrase feel a sense of community equates to give us repeat custom. They are doing exactly what politicians do, which is to say something terribly earnestly, as if simply the act of earnest utterance makes it true. The arrogance of their statement, with its missionary zeal to bring these things to the poor benighted people of Crouchie, should fool no one.

The underlying contradictions of their message rise up to the surface with the slightest disturbance of the text.  They ‘handcraft each Gail’s shop’ but they all end up looking the same, as any real adaptations would dilute their brand identity. They imply that they care so much about our ‘community’ that they’ve discovered what Crouch End lacks, and are selflessly offering to provide it. The only trouble is that anyone who has ever actually been to Crouch End will know that we are far from lacking in “great bread, a calm place to chill out with young children, a place to come and use Wi-Fi”; it’s fantastically arrogant of them to assume otherwise. We have loads of brilliant bakeries that really are independent shops, rather than chains who would like have us think of them as independents. Our best bakery, Dunn’s, has been in Crouch End since 1820 and sells pumpkin bread so tasty I have literally had dreams about it. That is the normal, non-Newspeak definition of a local community shop that sells great bread. Gail’s don’t even make very good pastries, apparently.


If they’d really been wringing out their souls over what Crouch End ‘really wants or needs’ they would have organised for us to have a proper independent bookshop, since we need one after the demise of lovely lovely Prospero’s (WEEP). But this is not their mission: they are here to make a profit, and they might at least be honest about that. Their presence in Crouch End will actually harm the community by competing with our real independent shops, who are already struggling with massive rents, higher food prices and the general impact of the economic crisis, and who don’t have the luxury of corporate funding behind them. The fact that they don’t give the least bit of a toss about the ‘local community’ is made evident by the lack of research they have done into the place.

I could go on quite a lot more about this. Don’t even get me started on ‘Jim, the Crouch End resident’, who appears later on. I call it twee-washing: the cynical, faux-caring bullshit that companies come up with to try to bamboozle us into buying their product. It’s the equivalent of banks using earnest homespun folk music on their adverts while their executives trouser millions in bonuses, and it utterly infuriates me. They are wolves in wonky, hand-knitted, organic wool jumpers: I shall be sticking to Dunn’s.


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