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Should Cities Try to Keep Out Big Chains?

10:48 AM EDT on October 22, 2009

Chain stores. Some community activists and urbanists hate them because they can muscle out local businesses that give a neighborhood character (the excellent film Twilight Becomes Night documents this painful loss in New York City).

But clearly a lot of people vote with their pocketbooks by spending money in chains. And the question of the effects of chains on a given neighborhood is complicated, especially when a recession is creating more vacant storefronts every day. Today, Streetsblog Network member Saint Louis Urban Workshop asks how -- and whether -- communities should limit chains:

3470183543_43264ae294.jpgPhoto by ...-Wink-... via Flickr.

Should business districts limit the number of national chains that
can open? Are local stores and restaurants at a disadvantage? Over the
past several years a group named Our Town
has successfully pushed for limits on new chain stores in San
Francisco. As a result, today all chain store applications must be
presented to the San Francisco Planning Commission and submitted for
public review.

Now longtime Bloomington, Indiana, Mayor Mark
Kruzan appears ready to limit chain stores from his idyllic southern
Indiana college town.…

Of course there's a flip side to this issue as
well. Local retailers, boutiques and independent restaurants likely
cannot serve all residents. It's wonderful to have $25 parmesan cheese
available in the city, but what about those who want Provel? This is
especially true with clothing. The recent rumor of an Old Navy opening
in downtown St. Louis would be a welcome trend in this way.


The issue isn't simple. We enjoy our St. Louis Bread
Company, but now it's a corporate behemoth. Once upon a time the
California Pizza Kitchen was the model of a neighborhood start-up.
Would you welcome a Peet's, but not a Starbucks? The Foot Locker and
Blockbuster stores in the Delmar Loop just recently closed and their
departure is being lamented by some who enjoyed their convenience and
those who simply had become used to them.

So where do you
stand on anti-chain store efforts?…Is it enough to limit signage or require a
particular design? Is the issue aesthetic? And what about franchises
owned by locals?

Good questions. Should municipalities try to regulate chains, or let the market have its way? It's a been a topic of debate since the 1920s. Your thoughts?

More from around the network: The Transport Politic asks how Los Angeles is going to manage its transit ambitions. Kaid Benfield on NRDC Switchboard looks at retrofitting suburban cul-de-sacs with trails for better connectivity. And Austin on Two Wheels notes the advent of the city's first sharrows.

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