Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012-01-19 "Sides debate ban on ‘formula’ businesses" by CHANTAL M. LOVELL from"Napa Valley Register"
A debate that has been brewing for nearly a month finally reached the City Council on Tuesday, with people in favor of regulating chain stores in downtown facing off against shopping choice advocates.
A new group, Napa Local, urged the council to adopt a 30-day moratorium to prevent any new “formula businesses,” or chains from opening shop in downtown Napa.
About 15 members of the group attended public comment sessions, supporting organizers who read a prepared statement explaining their position.
“Our overall purpose is to mitigate the effects such businesses have on locally owned shops and merchants,” said T.C. Craig, a Napa Local organizer. “We should not allow our desperation for full storefronts to homogenize the budding culture that is just now beginning to take root, something that is unique to our area.”
The grassroots group mobilized after it was reported in mid-December that a Starbucks might be interested in opening in the Eye Works Optometry building at First and Main, across the street from the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company.
While its initial purpose was to prevent the coffee giant from coming downtown, Napa Local has broadened its mission to persuade the City Council to adopt an ordinance regulating the establishment of all chain stores downtown.
“It would be easy for the council to approve and allow any and all businesses to establish themselves in our area, but at what risk?” Napa Local organizer Spencer Smith said. “The council, in our opinion, runs the hazard of essentially creating a strip mall-like effect in an area the city has so diligently worked to improve.”
Calistoga is among the nearby cities that regulate chains. In its municipal code, the Upvalley city describes formula businesses as any that share with another similar business located elsewhere: a common name; standardized services or uniforms; decor; logo or name.
Opponents said regulating a certain class of businesses when so many downtown storefronts remain empty is risky.
“I wanted to throw up a very strong cautionary flag about choosing one business and where they might be located over another business,” Jeff Doran, a downtown landlord and a member of the Downtown Specific Plan’s steering committee, said. Doran estimated there are 100,000 square feet of vacant leasable space in downtown.
“Now is not the time to put a moratorium on downtown Napa development,” he said.
Melodie Hilton, past president of the Napa Downtown Association, reminded the council of all the formula businesses that are already in downtown or were once there.
“Fans of Sushi Mambo were probably a little worried when they heard Morimoto might be coming into town,” she said, citing the high-profile chain of Japanese restaurants.
Napa resident Michael Haley said people will not come to Napa to visit a chain store they can patronize in their hometown.
“Take a look at the Oxbow market,” he said. “Ritual Coffee, Five Dot (Ranch), a number of stores in there. If the Oxbow market had Burger King, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, people wouldn’t go there. The fact of the matter is that chain businesses or formula business are just lower quality.”
Hilton pointed out that several of the Oxbow Public Market purveyors and others could be defined as “formula” businesses because they have multiple, similar locations. Among those she mentioned were the Hog Island Oyster Company, Gott’s Roadside, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Kara’s Cupcakes, Three Twins Ice Cream, The Model Bakery and even the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company.
She cited an ongoing case in Sonoma. According to local reports, Williams-Sonoma wants to open a store in the very Sonoma building where it began in 1956. But it could be stonewalled from doing so if the city council adopts an ordinance regulating formula businesses, which it may do. On Wednesday, the Sonoma council was to discuss imposing a temporary moratorium on the establishment of chains while it sorts through the possible ordinance.
“It seems that by saying large businesses should not be allowed to come to downtown Napa that you are punishing success rather than applauding it,” said Vintage High School student Angie Gervasio, who pointed out that Starbucks was once a small business.
She encouraged the Roasting Company to use the possibility of the competition as an opportunity to improve.
Mayor Jill Techel said she does not expect the prospect of an emergency moratorium on formula businesses to come up on the council’s agenda because no council members   expressed an interest in having staff investigate it further. Councilman Peter Mott said the council will review supplemental information submitted by some of the speakers. If three members wish to discuss the matter further, they can place it on an agenda.
Though the council was unable to discuss the matter because it was not on the official agenda, Councilman Mark van Gorder said the council heard the people’s opinions.
“I do think that there’s a specialness of Napa that we need to be on guard and protect,” he said, adding that he was on the fence about the issue. “I have concerns about having some sort of a blanket statement. ... We have a tremendous number of people who are just starting to take interest in doing business in downtown.”
For others, the issue is simple.
“This is really about suppression of competition,” said Napa resident Chris Craiker. “Competition is what our country is all about, and for us to try to inhibit that in any way I think is a mistake.”
Others held to their belief that chain stores belong in malls, not downtown Napa.
“An ordinance that we would request in the future may have unintended consequences, however, unintended consequences are part of all ordinances and actions or lack thereof,” Craig said. “The council should weigh the current situation on the standard of more good than harm.
“In this case, we feel that more good than harm will come from an ordinance regulating the establishment of formula businesses and protecting our local merchants.”

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