California Forum

Another View: Embracing chain stores puts more at stake than ‘quirkiness’

Will Sacramento promote creative ventures or settle for imported, copycat commerce?

By focusing on the challenging relationship between neighbors and the developer of Curtis Park Village, Ryan Lillis missed issues that matter for Sacramento and one of the city’s unique neighborhoods (“Neighbors defend quirkiness”; City Beat, June 9).

In its recent “History, Character & Lifestyle” video, the city of Sacramento touts “Neighborhoods with Small Town Charm.” Independent businesses contribute much of that charm. The desire to expand character and promote local entrepreneurs is the force behind Curtis Park’s small-business initiative.

When Rob Archie opened Pangaea Two Brews Cafe in Curtis Park, he didn’t follow a formula. The cafe evolved and endeared itself to neighbors and beer lovers throughout the city. Rob isn’t just transacting business; he’s creating something unique and enhancing the neighborhood.

Formula businesses – chain stores – rarely feel special. They eliminate space for independent ventures, can cause family businesses to close and siphon dollars to remote corporate locations.

This is true regardless of the income or activism of residents. Struggling neighborhoods may welcome any development but in the long run could suffer even more from the loss of connection and community pride that develops with a vibrant small-business sector.

In Curtis Park, about 21 percent of our corridor businesses are formula chains. On some blocks the percentage is far higher. More chains on Broadway could further stymie its transition to a vibrant cultural magnet, a concept outlined by the Urban Land Institute and the Greater Broadway Partnership in their 2012 Vision Plan. Franklin Boulevard’s small businesses are vulnerable despite the great work of the North Franklin District.

Some chains do offer quality products. But are they worth the loss of entrepreneurial opportunity, originality and cultural diversity?

Big boxes and chain stores can seem inevitable. They aren’t. Sacramento’s farm to fork movement has increased demand for local food. Online reviews of independent shops make a predictable chain store choice unnecessary. So far nearly 900 people have signed two petitions opposing more corporate chains in and around Curtis Park. Proposing a chain store here is not a sure path to success.

Many Sacramento neighborhoods hope to maintain their personalities. Communities across the country use reasonable controls on chains to revitalize commercial corridors, support small businesses and protect neighborhood character.

Curtis Park is a great place to begin local exploration of this tool to nurture homegrown talent and enhance the common good.