Proposal would make chain outlets formally justify themselves before opening in Boston neighborhood business districts

The City Council agreed today to consider a proposal by councilors Michelle Wu, Kim Janey and Lydia Edwards that would require retail and restaurant chains to get zoning-board approval before opening any new outlets in the city's "local business" districts.

The councilors say the measure would not stop chains from opening new outlets, but would require more formal consideration of neighborhood concerns before they go forward. Although Starbucks generated controversy with a proposed outlet at the gateway to the North End, Wu said the measure is in response to chainification across the city - she pointed to the now failed Petco in Roslindale Square as well as a Popeye's under construction in Codman Square.

Wu said said the measure, based on similar ordinances in other cities, would help local businesses that now find themselves under assault by national chains looking to glom onto the successful neighborhood districts the local business owners built. She said that by requiring zoning-board hearings, the measure would let residents and officials gauge how well a chain would mesh with a neighborhood on everything from early morning trash removal to local hiring.

"We cannot and should not treat a Starbucks like a local coffee shop; they should be treated differently," Edwards, who represents the North End, said.

Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain/West Roxbury) said he supported the general idea, but cautioned against unintended consequences - he wondered whether the proposal would affect chains such as Roche Bros. and JP Licks, which are both local.

In their request for a hearing at which to consider the proposal, the councilors write:

Small businesses and locally owned businesses contribute to the economic and social vitality of the neighborhoods throughout the City of Boston. ... The City of Boston should recognize the importance of small and locally owned businesses in its land use and planning objectives and provide a welcoming environment to allow such businesses to thrive and be successful. ... The City Council understands the need for retail variety and the most viable retail environments offer a variety of retailers; however, the proliferation of chain retail stores in neighborhoods of the City takes away from the aesthetic characteristics of the neighborhoods and adversely impacts smaller businesses and locally-owned businesses.

Their proposed ordinance, which would require approval of the Boston Zoning Commission, defines a chain as any company with at least 11 outlets, anywhere in the world.

In addition to the eleven establishments either in operation or with local land use or permit entitlements approved for operation, the business maintains two or more of the following features: a standardized array of merchandise, a standardized facade, a standardized decor and color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized signage, a trademark or a servicemark.




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PDF icon The formal hearing request120.46 KB



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The personal over the corporate. More Davids, fewer Goliaths. Homogenization sucks! Let our neighborhoods have character again.



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This doesn't stop another Frankie D or Nicky V from opening up 11 more nearly identical restaurants in the North End.



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Bella Vista
La summa
Nebo actually has killer sauce
Piccolo Nido


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Try the bolognese. Amazing and aleays consistent.

Very nice meal every time.

Retail is dying

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This just makes Boston seem that much more unfriendly to business. No local entrepreneur is going to open a shoe store in my neighborhood, but Payless might. Now any chain will have one more hoop to jump through....and some will likely just say screw it and go to Brookline or Dedham or Milton.

BTW, does this apply to banks too?


One councilor mentioned the same basic thing.

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Andrea Campbell said she supports the general idea, but wants the flexibility to let each district decide what it wants.

But the idea is not really to ban chains. The proposal would make them a "conditional use," which means they're basically allowed, but they do have to go before the zoning board (and so before at least one community meeting before that). Most of the chains already go before the neighborhood (Starbucks certainly did in South Boston, but let's not bring up the infamous Whole Foods community meeting in JP), this would add one more hearing.


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I've been here long enough to know that

but they do have to go before the zoning board (and so before at least one community meeting before that).


"how much ass kissing can a big corp do for us, and how many freebees will we get also"

Because thats all this is. This new law will be used in this manner.. it almost always is...

Sorry I wasn't born yesterday not to believe this wouldn't go like this..


Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen

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"The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time." Henry Ford

I try to "shop local" whenever possible and the local shop usually thrives if they have a good product and keep the place clean. What are they afraid of? None of the councilors have ever had a real job so who is pushing this?

I avoid Starbucks due to their liberal policies so I don't know about them but I know most McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts are locally owned franchises. In most cases their cleanliness indoor and out is held to a higher standard than the local shops. This proposal is discriminatory and outrageous and would never pass SCOTUS, especially with our two great new justices.


Starbucks treats LGBT people

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Starbucks treats LGBT people like human beings and apologized for calling the cops on black customers. Republicans don't like equality.


Because the North End is SUCH

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Because the North End is SUCH a bastion of White Privilege.


Edited to correct myself: the vast majority of Boston area posters here are Privileged Mostly Whites who do not want to see success in others, as it would impinge on Theirs.

Holiday "wars"

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You know. The policies that have declared "war" on certain holidays nominally having to do with Jeebus but those darn pagans got there first.

Years ago

I saw a commercial with Papa John, Peyton Manning, and Jim Nantz. I asked "Is my TV made by Toshiba, or by Summer's Eve?"

Local business wouldn’t be

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Local business wouldn’t be fighting with chains over space if building construction had kept up with population growth over the last 2+ decades.


In Somerville, Mayor

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In Somerville, Mayor Curtatone used his muscle to block Ocean State Job Lot from moving into the vacant Star Market on Winter Hill, and a Walmart-owned supermarket from moving into the vacant Circuit City at Assembly. Years later, they’re both still vacant.



Build shelter for humans there or shut the (expletive) up.

Vote Democrat again.

Who decides?

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So what is a "chain" restaurant? Is JP Licks a chain? They already have several in the city. I've felt under assault by their ice cream.

It's not the "national chains" that are assaulting "local businesses" but landlords and the free market. They are asking for rent that the "locals" can't or don't want to pay.


Click on the attachment to the article

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It has some specific definitions of what constitutes a "chain," and one of those definitions is 11 or more open or approved outlets anywhere in the world. If JP Licks has 11 or more outlets, then they're a chain under the proposal (do they? I don't know). Ditto for Roche Bros. And, yes, the same goes for Legal Seafood, Tasty Burger, even Chilacates (which is not yet near 11 outlets, but they're growing really fast). And that's why O'Malley raised his concern: There are chains, and then there are chains ...

As for JP Licks

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JP Licks will probably benefit the most of any local business from this proposal. They will probably sail through the ZBA whenever they want to expand (guessing Matt O'Malley will attend the hearing in support?), and their national competitors will surely be held up, especially in Jamaica Plain.

This is the same

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law that San Francisco has, defining a chain as 11 outlets or more.

It was pretty darn funny watching SF laud Blue Bottle as a "homegrown local company," then turn on them once they had more than 11 locations as an "evil, soulless, corporate chain."

So your concern about stores like JP Licks and Roche Brothers are quite valid: it discourages local businesses from expanding, because crossing 10 makes expansion within the city difficult and potentially expensive.

One last thought

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I hate that this rule would basically equate that all chains are bad. There are no more local pharmacies that are expanding (and the ones that are left have found ways to hang on.) If CVS wants to open a new store, in a place that won't kill an indie drug store, what the hell is wrong with that? If Bank of America (yes they ARE generally evil) wanted to open a branch in an under-served neighborhood, they should be cheered, not made to do some walk of shame.


but the petco was the perfect market in action

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people didn't want to buy there, they wanted to shop local, the store didn't make enough money, it closed. that's generally considered the system working as designed. plus the neighborhood got the costs of a "new" storefront out of petco, so if some local business comes in, they don't have to pay for the ADA changes.

I mean, personally, I'd still rather have the chain than the empty storefront that's sitting their unused, but for those who opposed it, they definitely got what they wanted.