Why does the news of a UK company making a break through in America depress me? Because its another example of the universalisation of the bland. Pret a Manger claims to have a growing foot hold in the American fast food market. When I go to the States what strikes me is how free of chains they are compared to the UK. Their towns still have lots of independents stores and even the fast food out of town outlets are so numerous in terms of different brands its hard to be overwhelmed by just a few.
But if Pret take a firm hold it will make things worse in the USA. They, like us, will take a step nearer the type of Clone Towns that rip the identity out of everywhere. It’s not just a matter of consumer choice but the identities we hold. If everywhere looks and feels the same then we are from everywhere and no where. There is nothing local or special – just a series of chains that may or may not make great coffee, sandwiches or hamburgers – but they make our lives and culture banal. Certainly they are nothing to be proud of. People may vote with their feet, but when there is no where else to go and the independents are priced out of the market by planners and multi-national competitors you cant say we have a choice.