Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chaining the Neighborhoods

In today's NY Times there is a front page story on the proliferation of chain stores into city neighborhoods. As the piece points out, however, not everyone is happy with the phenomenon because there is a perception that it will force out locally-owned businesses through an inexorable rent escalation. As the Times indicates, "The rapid gentrification of certain neighborhoods outside of Manhattan has accelerated the spread of the chain stores and renewed fears that the pockets of flavor that define the city will dry up..."

As one urban planner points out, "The boroughs are all going down like bowling pins..." There are now 220 Duane Reade Drugstores and 217 Rite Aids. The independent pharmacist has become an endangered species in New York as a result of what the Municipal Arts Society calls "chain store creep."

This chain store proliferation has goaded one city into action. In San Francisco a proposition passed, with 60% of the vote, that requires a review of all new chain store applications. These restrictions have generally been upheld by the courts because they are germane to the "community character" aspects of the zoning code.

While we don't automatically support this kind of zoning restriction we are concerned with maintaining some kind of balance between chains and local businesses (businesses that we believe contribute more to the local economy). One final point. Last spring Councilman Rivera proposed a fast food zoning restriction based on a health premise. The San Fransisco precedent might make this kind of initiative pass legal muster as well. All of which means that we need to see some sort of collaboration here so that all kinds of businesses can flourish and the health of New Yorkers can be enhanced.