THE QUESTION that many people have asked us over the past few years is why are there so many coffee shops in Wokingham.
And when a resident asked us to find out why, we met with Cllr John Kaiser over, what else?, a cup of coffee, to allow him to put the record straight.
Earlier this month, Coffee#1 opened its doors in Peach Place, joining Blue Orchid Tea Rooms, GAIL’s Bakery, Sit & Sip, and The Leafy Elephant as places where thirsty shoppers can unwind with a drink.
And those establishments come on top of established coffee shops such as independents Oslar and Brown Bag – which was recently voted the champions of the Wokingham World Cup of Coffee by Wokingham Paper readers. The town centre is also home to chains like Cafe Nero and Costa, and Barista Lounge, Sedero Lounge, Aroma and Cafe Mosiac, among others.
The new Peach Place and Elms Field developments are both owned and managed by Wokingham Borough Council – part of its response to the Government changing the way it funds local councils.
“We have to treat our investment in the town centre as a commercial incentive,” Cllr Kaiser said.
“Now there are shops we wouldn’t want to have in the town centre. We don’t want to be snooty, but there are shops that would detract from it.
“You see what there is in the mall – Oliver Bonas, a number of other shops like Mi Mi which is a great shop coming from Hartney Whitney.
“I would say to you, you will running a business and said, ‘I want to rent your shop’ and providing they didn’t damage the environment, we would, you know, rent that shop.
“The question isn’t why are there so many coffee shops, the question is why are there so many coffee shops that think they could thrive. That’s the question.
“It’s a bit like asking where are you building so many houses in Wokingham. The reason for that is quite simple: everybody wants to come and live in Wokingham, which is good news.
“Yes, we are minded of the number of businesses which are similar but while they can thrive and trade profitably in the centre [they’ll be welcome].”
Cllr Kaiser added that during the previous recession, the council was the one to invest in the town centre as no one else was doing so.
“We could see that the town was dying,” he said. “We had nine charity shops, now we’re attracting these other retail shops and that will grow.
“IT would be nice to pick and choose and maybe at some point when everything is full, we might. We would like to see a bit more mixture.”
Work on the Elms Field development has been coming on at a fair pace and it won’t be long before the first names will be announced.
“What we’re trying to do is, we’ve looked at that part of town, we’ve looked at what Elms Field is, which is playground, places for people to sit, so we hope the shops would be an extension of Elms Park.
“So, a sports shop, a mothers and toddlers shop – that’s what we’d like to see, because it fits in with the ethos of what Elms Park is about.”
But, he added, “There is an opportunity to deliver some sort of sandwich or cake shop or something like that. That’s the sort of thing I’d like to do.”
He also said that the area would not become an area like The Oracle Riverside, which is packed full of restaurants.
“I don’t see an awful lot more restaurants, but say we get a very prestigious brand and offer something that isn’t offered elsewhere, we might not say no.”