Wednesday, August 4
Chains (and, Separately, Eyesores)
As I recall an earlier comment on chain businesses, here are a few thoughts regarding chains in (a town near my birthplace) Saratoga Springs, New York, this from another article linked by Planetizen (which, you can guess, I visit frequently):
Saratoga's residents like to debate the merit of the chain stores' arrival in the city. Some argue that their mere presence is compromising to the character of downtown. Some believe that high rental prices deter average residents from opening up shop downtown, which dilutes the potential for locally owned businesses to capitalize on Saratoga's growth. Still others believe that these large stores with mass appeal generate foot traffic that might not have been there before, and hopefully those consumers will pop into the mom-and-pop shops that have a real investment in the community.
"By adding these tenants to downtown, we're keeping shoppers downtown and attracting shoppers to downtown that otherwise would just go to the mall," says Pfeil.
"That's what we tried to get across back in the beginning of the Plan of Action: You are not going to be a mall, do not compete against the mall," says Bristol. "Every city that's tried to make the equivalent of a mall in downtown has failed. But what's happening now is a lot of the national chains are finding that the historic downtowns are particularly valuable markets to be in. So you'll find things like we're seeing here, folks like Gap who go in." Still, that mixture is a delicate one.
Being an "Anytown" with all the same chains and little uniqueness detracts from a city's appeal, but at least it's better than nothing (although "nothing" is quite a low benchmark).
A tangent: if you care about the human element of urban design, please do read Geography of Nowhere by Saratoga resident James Howard Kunstler, and also pay attention to his Eyesore of the Month page, showcasing architectural whatthehecks that are considered "acceptable" or even celebrated.