"Javagate" The Story so Far

Coffee is a passion for me, anyone who has talked to me, knows I could wax lyrical about it. I thoroughly enjoyed being at last month's Farmer's Market and spent the following four weeks looking forward to it, preparing new beans and telling everyone that would listen about how great it was to have something like this in Lisburn. Yesterday, despite being there to sell BEAN AND GONE coffee beans I was told, mid-market, to stop giving away sample drinks, because it was affecting the business of another trader. Annoyed and offended, I sent out a quick tweet and was shocked by the near instant support of the local online community. Russell (@wiseguyrussell) has posted about it on his blog and others @blackconfetti, @odle2, @maramgrass, @stuartgibson, @wiredbob expressed their indignation, both in person and online.

People have been talking about free trade and the unfairness of having a market that allows no duplication. I signed up for the market knowing this and accepted that I couldn't sell coffee drinks and only give samples away. I wanted to write a detailed timeline of what has been happening and allow everyone to make up their own minds.

  • October 18th 2008
    The first Farmer's market in Castle Gardens, I popped in while walking past, thought it was great to see in Lisburn (and still do), I even bought a coffee from Javaman.
    Bumped into Sharon from Soupernatural (responsible for creating and organising the market), who suggested I come along to the next market held at:

  • December 2008
    I Had planned to attend selling coffee beans, even contacted the council (the organiser being Suzanne Lutton) to get forms, however the fact that the council required a Risk assessment form the length of your arm and Public Indemnity Insurance put the brakes on that. Paying out around £80 on Insurance in what was thought, at the time ,to be a one-off seemed like a bit steep, add to the that the cost of the pitch, being nearly double that of the likes of St George's market.
    I stopped by the market anyway, bought some nice food, (noticed Javaman wasn't there this time) and again talked to Sharon from Soupernatural who told me I should have came along anyway and let their insurance cover me. She told me the market was going to start back and go monthly from:

  • February
    I saw a banner go up for the Lisburn Farmer's Market on 7th March and contacted Sharon to see if it was ok to come along.
    I got a call back the next day, from Suzanne Lutton from Lisburn City Council, telling me that although they'd be happy to have me at the market, I wouldn't be able to trade using Soupernatural's insurance. Understandable really, so I arranged my own, as well as ordering in green beans, packaging, signage etc, only to get another call back from Suzanne telling me that Phil from Javaman had expressed concern about me selling coffee drinks. An arrangement was made that I would only sell beans and equipment, so as not to affect his business and comply with the non-duplication terms of the market. With all that sorted out I got ready for:

  • Saturday 9th March: First Monthly Market
    Although it was a freezing, wet and overcast day, we had a successful day and as I mentioned above, a lot of fun. So there was no doubt that we planned to go back in:

  • March
    I got back in touch with Suzanne at the council just to check everything was ok for the next market, she told me it was and checked that I was fine with only doing samples. From here on out I'll break down what happened on the day:

  • Saturday 5th April
    Setup my tent outside the main marquee, got completely soaked and had a short chat with Javaman, I should add that nothing was mentioned about us selling coffee beans

  • 0930
    Was asked again by Suzanne "are you only serving samples" despite having already answered this repeatedly. Suzanne's exact words were "he (Phil from Javaman) saw you carrying in an espresso machine and is freaking out"

  • 1100 (ish)
    Several customers expressed annoyance at not being able to buy a coffee (drinks) from us, although as before I let them know they could buy from Javaman at the back of the tent. It was also noticed that all the other market traders had been provided with printed signage.

  • 1215
    Sharon from Soupernatural (not the council organiser) came over to our stall and told us we would have to stop giving out samples as it was affecting Phil's trade and there just wasn't enough footfall to justify two traders with the same product. She said that Suzanne from the council would be over to speak to me soon:

  • 1400
    Not exactly "soon" and having turned away dozens of customers looking for samples I finally got to speak to Suzanne by going to find her. Suzanne explained the same reasons as Sharon, however she agreed that we should be allowed to give out samples but in small espresso sized cups only. We asked to have it in writing and the following month be inside the main marquee, she said that would be fine.
    We brought up the issue that the market would never grow, or be competitive while they still had a no duplication policy, Suzanne told us she had at least another 6 traders lined up to come (which I think would be great) but they can't as they overlap with existing traders.
    On the issue of the printed banners which the other traders got, we were told that we hadn't one because our spot was outside the main marquee and they wouldn't survive well outside. This was understandable and it was pointed out the other outside spot (for which the trader didn't show) didn't have one either.

  • 1445
    Sharon came back and informed us that Suzanne (from the council, official organisers etc) should not have told us that we could give out samples at all and that an espresso size sample of filter coffee would stop people buying shots of espresso from Phil. I want to point out here that the standard of coffee and the culture of the UK and Ireland is that someone will not buy a shot of Espresso, unless they truly are a coffee lover, in which case a "shot" of filter coffee would not suffice or even be considered as the same thing. We were also told that we should not have been at the market at all as when I had first request to come in February, Phil from Javaman had said he would not be happy with me being there at all. Sharon says she passed this information back to Suzanne (although up to that point I had been dealing directly with Sharon) and that the fault was Suzanne's and the Council's for letting me come. She also pointed out that the banners were only printed for the other traders, whom she had invited and arranged with and that our roastery tent outside was nothing to do with her, it was between me and Suzanne. (This contradicted not only Suzanne's earlier reason for us not having signage, but also Sharon's own arguments about who had the say in the running of the market. One moment she has the authority to arrange things, the next we are "nothing to do with her"). It was left that, we had affected Javaman's business so much that he probably wouldn't be back and that it would damage her reputation as a trader as she had given her word that there would be no duplication, the direction of the conversation was thought the right thing to do would be to leave as us even attending the market was a mistake.

  • 1530
    I packed up, paid my fee and was told  by Suzanne that she would be in touch, after having spoken to Sharon, so who knows what will happen next?

Andrew Gribben @grib