Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chain stores

Next week, there's a community meeting in my section of Boston (Jamaica Plain) to discuss the possibility of allowing a Domino's Pizza franchise to inhabit a currently-empty storefront. JP has a long history of having a reflexive dislike of chain stores, and I'm sure these folks will make up the vast majority of this meeting. I disagree, and think that the Domino's should be allowed in. Here's why...

First, precedent... currently JP has a CVS, a Dunkin Donuts, a 7-11, and two Tedeschi's, so it is not like you have to be a non-chain store to be there. So from solely a consistency standpoint, I don't see how they could be kept out. And if the people of JP are really, really against chain stores, then fine, don't shop there, and it will go out of business. But it seems like a sizable percentage of JP residents are not against chain stores, as the aforementioned places have been in business for awhile.

I've heard it argued that JP already has enough pizza places (by my count, there are 5 on a mile-long stretch of the main drag) so that's enough, we don't need any more. I don't like this argument either. More than one of the pizza places is, at least to my palate, terrible. That they are still in business means either that there is plenty of demand for pizza or that people really do have a wide-variety of pizza palates (or that some of the joints are mob fronts). I'm no kool-aid drinker when it comes to the power of the free market in all things, but in the realm of pizza, I'm more than willing to the let people vote with their feet.

And certainly, an open business is much better for the community than an empty store front. Areas that thrive (for example, Davis Square in Somerville) do so because they are destinations -- people want to go there because there are other people there. This is why Davis Square can support both the Diesel Cafe and Starbucks -- indeed, the former has continued to thrive despite the presence of the latter. Naively, you might think that the two coffee shops would cut into each other's business: this would be true if the number of people in Davis Square was fixed. But it isn't -- because it is an attractive place, housing occupancy is higher, and people who don't live there still visit. Contrast that to a world where the Diesel Cafe is across the street from a boarded up building. So this is an example of a rising tide lifting all boats.