One of the most common laments of anyone who dwelled in a once-cool city is that our nation's urban spaces have become infested with identical chain stores. So what if we just... banned them?
No Applebees. No Olive Garden. The Gap would like to move in downstairs? No! Old Navy would like to locate across the street? No! Could your block use another Starbucks, to go with the other Starbucks? Nah. Though the American system of capitalism will inevitably lead to the proliferation of chain stores—due to the inherent economic advantages of scale—that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to resign ourselves to a world full of CitiMcDonaldsTGIFridaysBananaRepublic.
Is a city full of local businesses a hippie pipe dream? I tell you, my people: thanks to the magic of local zoning ordinances, it is not! Consider, for example, the law currently being pushed by the mayor of Jersey City. From the Wall Street Journal:
Under the new rules, only 30% of commercial space downtown could be rented to a business that has 10 other properties within 300 miles of Jersey City, according to a proposed draft.
Since many of the best-known chain stores and restaurants have many more properties than that, Mr. Fulop is trying to dramatically limit chain businesses.
Jersey City, home base of 25 year-old junior finance bros, is hardly Berkeley. But the rationale for these rules is easy to understand: over time, and with a few notable exceptions, it will always become harder and harder for local businesses to compete with chain stores, which have vast corporate backing and can often make more attractive offers to landlords than a local can. If you don't want your town to become a plastic facsimile of Main Street America (which is a fast food-laden strip of county road on the outskirts of Spartanburg, SC), then you have to do something to counteract the grim economic trends. In a time when the economy is strong and there is a decent supply of locals who want to run businesses in your downtown, keeping out chain stores is a public service. If people want to eat at Red Lobster so bad, they can drive to the fucking burbs. Support burb tourism! Jersey City's proposed rule exempts grocery stores; your town can tailor it as you wish to allow in things you need, and keep out things you don't.
Of course, when the economy turns south again, politicians will be crawling on their hands and knees to beg for a Chik-fil-A outlet. So enjoy the boutiques while they last.