Monday, July 07, 2008

Unchain My Heart

A report by the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) is highlighted in this week's Villager. The report underscores ways in which zoning can be used to prevent the proliferation of chain stores in the East Village: "New York City zoning regulations currently allow chain stores to move in as of right and offer no protection to small businesses from rising rent, rising wholesale prices and a declining customer base. That policy could change for the East Village if a community group’s plan to amend the city’s Zoning Resolution to prevent chains like Starbucks and CVS from displacing local businesses and altering the character of the neighborhood is successful."

The EVCC effort is patterned after those of other jurisdictions concerned about the loss of local independent retailers, and the homogenization of neighborhood shopping: "Formula businesses typically include retail stores, restaurants and hotels that offer standardized services, operating methods, decor, uniforms and architecture, along the lines of Starbucks and McDonald’s, for example."

This is, in our view, a creative policy initiative that could dovetail nicely with our own efforts to preserve local supermarkets. In fact, we've been following the plight of a local Met Supermarket on Second Avenue-directly in the heart of the EVCC target area. The most radical proposal in the plan calls for an outright ban of chains from a specific zone: "The most stringent recommendation of the report, “Retail Studies and Initiatives for the East Village,” is to ban formula retail, or chains, on St. Mark’s Place from Third Ave. to Avenue A. Existing chains would be grandfathered in, meaning they could remain. This recommendation is modeled after San Francisco, which is the largest U.S. city to restrict formula or chain businesses, banning them in two neighborhoods and regulating them almost everywhere else."

The restrictions on chains-which would apply to both banks and drug stores-would make it much more difficult to displace neighborhood food markets. That is why we applaud EVCC and recommend that its report be fully scrutinized by planners and elected officials concerned with the supermarket drain in NYC.