The Coffee Shop Gap


Could an hour difference help a region secure its identity?

A few weeks ago, I wrote in the Kitchener Post about how I and perhaps many residents of Waterloo Region know more about the goings on at Toronto city council than we do of Waterloo’s regional council or Kitchener’s city council. Part of it is to our blessing: Ken Seiling and Carl Zehr know how to work with their councils and build a consensus that backs their agenda. Earlier this week, Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s confrontational approach again led him to being spanked by the centre and left majority of his council.

But the other part is that we here in Waterloo Region are swamped by Toronto’s media. Most of our television comes from Toronto. There is no local media outlet from the CBC, and, most importantly, of the five major newspapers found on our street corners, only one is exclusive to this region.

Since writing that column, I’ve kept an eye out at the coffee shops and cafes I’ve visited. The local McDonald’s regularly stocks the current issue of the Toronto Star. The local Tim Horton’s tends to display the latest Toronto Sun. Other coffee shops tend to favour the Globe and Mail and the National Post. One, in uptown Waterloo, regularly displays the Globe and the Star. The Waterloo Region Record is nowhere to be found.

This is a problem. A community’s identity is as much subconscious as anything else. We go into these restaurants and coffee shops every day, and we glimpse headlines in our ‘local’ papers produced by writers in Toronto. How is this conducive to maintaining our local identity? We are justly proud of the independence of our three cities and region, our strong economy and our thriving local scene, but we cede this ground to a much larger entity by not giving coffee-shop airtime to the local paper. Why?

The owner of the coffee (and gelato) shop I frequent in Uptown Waterloo offered an explanation when asked a similar question by one of his patrons. He said he’d happily bring in a copy of the Waterloo Region Record for his patrons, if a copy was on his doorstop when he left to open his business for the day.

This may be where Toronto papers have a critical competitive advantage. I believe the Globe and Mail is delivered every day at 3 a.m., by very dedicated delivery people. Certainly, when I commuted every day, the Globe was waiting for me when I walked out the door. The Record promises delivery by 6:30 a.m., which means that I’d have to wait until I came home to read it. I wonder how much of the market the Record has ceded by not delivering its papers even just an hour earlier.

The availability of a local paper may seem like a small thing when it comes to protecting our identity, but even a glimpse of local headlines on local issues can plant that seed of interest in the mind of residents. We discover by glimpses and glances the important local issues, as well as those wider provincial and national issues that have a local impact.

It could be for this reason that someone at the City of Kitchener has made sure that copies of the Waterloo Region Record are available at my local community centre - a sound venture, in my opinion. Now, if only this can be widened to cover our coffee shops.

And let’s get some copies of the Kitchener Post out there while we’re at it.

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