Preserving Our Downtown

Last December, the Council enacted an “urgency” ordinance restricting chain stores in the downtown core.

Any retail business with 10 or more outlets in the United States must now get special permission from the City before it opens in our downtown core, even if it complies with all other legal requirements. Had this been in effect previously, businesses like Nothing Bundt Cakes, Footwear Etc., The UPS Store, Susie Cakes, Peets, the Hallmark Store, Tutti Frutti, and more, might have been denied a store front.

I voted for this ordinance, after voicing quite a few concerns, because it will expire shortly if not confirmed and I wanted time to study its purported costs and benefits. After talking to residents, business and property owners, and outside experts, I’ve come to the conclusion we don’t need this particular change to the long-standing, successful partnership between our community and its businesses.

I’ve put together a brief presentation about this which you can watch below. It ends with a number of policy suggestions which I believe would serve us better than the anti-chain store ordinance. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.

You can enlarge the video by clicking on the enlarge button in the lower right hand area of the video display.

5 thoughts on “Preserving Our Downtown”

  1. Mark,

    Thank you for this presentation.

    I applaud your rational and analytical approach to the issue.

    One factor you don’t identify is a squishy one: we have an attachment to living in a “small town”, and we romanticize mom-and-pop stores. I do at least. I am heartbroken that Taqueria Mi Ranchito was forced out. On Nextdoor, others are lamenting the loss of Pizzaria San Remo. And several other well-loved long-time stores are disappearing. Whatever the new stores are, they will be designed to take more of our money. Do we really need more ways to spend more money?

    I might have a few disagreements with you about the imperative for growth; I want to think them through further before putting them in writing, however.

    But most of all, I first and foremost want to applaud your thoughtful framing of the issue.

    -Eric Saund

  2. Kim Boyanowski

    Thank you for the well composed presentation Mark.

    As a business owner who has a client-base from Marin County to Gilroy and the East Bay I frequently hear about the wonderful the mix of stores and restaurants in San Carlos- with outlets that are both unique and/or individually owned stores as well as more nationally or regionally recognizable “chains”. They usually make a trip to one of those recognizable stores- say Starbucks or Hallmark for example and find themselves checking out the many other wonderful stores and restaurants San Carlos has to offer. Without some recognizable retail, there is less of an incentive to see what San Carlos has to offer. The domino effect of recognizable retail should not be understated. Many of the small businesses receive a lot of foot traffic and business because of the draw from other more recognizable retail. For those of us who live here, having both keeps us from driving off to a different city for a lot of our day to day needs.
    But, it is the COMBINATION of local and national business that makes San Carlos BOTH a livable city for residents and desirable city to visit. If we go down a path that excludes or discriminates against stores that have a larger regional or national presence, we are limiting our city to resources that may not keep up with the interests of our residents or visitors- and thus we will find ourselves or our visitors going elsewhere – rather than what many of us try to do on a day to day basis- shop locally.
    I am not advocating for the “hulk” style businesses and frankly we don’t really have the right size real estate in the downtown (isn’t that why places like BestBuy are in a shopping center rather than downtown?) What I am strongly supporting is not restricting what type of retail or restaurant business should be allowed in the downtown core. We are a diverse community and lots of residents would like to see a more diverse set of options available to shoppers in the downtown- and not have that decided by small but vocal group of residents who feel national chains are bad for us all.

    As a long-term resident (18 years and counting) and business owner (both my husband and I own businesses in San Carlos) shopping and dining locally is critical for us as residents as well as our clients and employees. Expanding what San Carlos has to offer benefits the residents, visitors and, I strongly feel, the smaller businesses in the City as well (remember the domino effect).

    Let both residents and visitors “vote” with their dollars, rather than have the city decide where we should spend our money. Would the City rather have those dollars spent locally or find that its residents and visitors are driving to some other more business friendly town that recognizes the potential a diverse downtown offers with both small sized and regionally/nationally recognized retail?

    I urge you to NOT make the “anti-chain” store ordinance permanent.

  3. Andrea Glavas

    While I appreciate the idea of getting a special permit to open a store in downtown San Carlos for businesses that have 10+ outlets nationwide, I don’t understand why a store such as Jamba Juice would be denied a permit because there is one in the shopping center on Industrial. I would prefer to avoid having to hop into my car, pollute the air to get to the Jamba Juice on Industrial to get a healthy juice. I would much prefer to walk from my office in San Carlos to a Jamba Juice location on Laurel to do that.

    Having Mom-and-Pop shops in the area is good, and if they can thrive, that is better. However, people actually like going to places like Peet’s, Starbucks, Susie Cakes, the UPS store, and the convenience of having them in San Carlos adds to the City’s appeal. It also attracts people who are familiar with these stores and want to visit the area, which increases business for the area.

    Preserving the feel of San Carlos should be more focused on preventing the excessive construction of apartment complexes and cowtowing to the Googles, Facebooks and similar companies that want convenient local housing for their employees because they are moving their operations to nearby areas. That is already starting to create congestion, lack of parking, more noise and less green space. That is what will mostly affect and change this area.

    I see nothing being done to create quiet zones so we don’t have to suffer the incessant blaring of the train horns at all hours of the day and night, and nothing still being done to preserve the quiet of the skies over San Carlos from commercial aircraft from SFO. These are the things that have the biggest impact on the quality of life here. I really don’t want San Carlos to be a smelly, noisy, congested “big little city.”

    So the ordinance to prohibit – or limit – the ability of chain stores to establish themselves in San Carlos is a minor concern, in the larger scheme of what is affecting this area.

  4. There are certainly other — and in my opinion more important — issues for the Council to address than chain stores, Andrea. Figuring out how to balance the demand for housing with other concerns is definitely one of those.

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