The Death of Main Street

Are big chains to blame, or is excessive regulation?

The local newspaper in Alexandria, Va., the Alexandria Times, ran an article last month called, "City business rules send heads spinning" that ought to be instructive for local city planners.

First, some quick background.

Old Town Alexandria is an historic, charming stretch of city just outside of Washington D.C. that features lots of shops, restaurants, parks, cobblestone streets, and a waterfront teeming with American history. George Washington was a regular in Old Town, as was a young Robert E. Lee.

The Alexandria Times article explained how Old Town Alexandria's onerous permit process and regulatory system have put a strain on small businesses, especially the small, independent outfits that give Old Town all of its charm. I'm fairly anti-regulation, but even I don't have too much of a problem with city ordinances that attempt to preserve unique neighborhoods with a distinct vibe or identity, particularly when the aim is to keep the quaint, historical atmosphere of a place like Old Town. These sorts of regulations are about as localized as you can get, in this case covering just a couple dozen or so city blocks.

But as the article in the Alexandria Times illustrates, even on this parochial of a level, zoning officials and regulators still tend to overdo it with the regulating, then lapse into bureaucratic coma when local businesses have to navigate their way through the mess of red tape.

For example, if you want to do something as simple as change the lettering on, or repaint the sign outside of your business in Old Town, you need to both apply for and pay $50 to obtain a "ladder permit," and apply for and pay $55 for a "building permit."

It can take more than two weeks to get the proper paperwork, even if all you want to do is replace the "e" on your "Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe" sign. More significant changes, obviously, require more bureaucratic hassle.

While all of this is intended to promote architectural continuity and preserve Old Town's historical charm, like most regulations it tends to promote the opposite of what city planners intend. Note, for example, this passage in the Times piece, which contrasts the struggles of a small, independently owned shop with the experience of a larger, established restaurant, both trying to open new businesses in the same neighborhood:

"Many business owners have hired lawyers to help them with the city processes, but lawyers are expensive as Yi found out. 'I certainly couldn't afford to hire lawyers to go over and deal with it,' she said. For Sandy Lewis, who recently opened Hank's Oyster Bar on King Street, the lawyer route was worth it and the whole process took 45 days. 'We had a really positive experience,' she said. The local lawyer she hired was 'well worth it.' "

Hank's has another restaurant in D.C., where it's been an institution for years. So it's not surprising that the restaurant's owners would have the money to hire a local lawyer to move them through the permit and zoning process.

The question is, should you really need to have to keep lawyer on retainer in order to open a business in Old Town? Is that really the kind of business atmosphere the city's elected officials want to create? And if Old Town is going to make that a requirement—intentionally or not—what effect is that going to have on the small boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores that make up the very atmosphere the regulations are trying to promote?

The answer, I think, lies in what's happened to Old Town over the last decade or so. It's been Gap-i-fied. The independent spots are closing down, and they're being replaced by familiar national chains. Old Town now has a Gap, a Chipotle, a Nine West, a Ross, a CVS, a Restoration Hardware, a Banana Republic, and loads of other stores you can find in just about every other part of the country. Parts of it are like a strip mall now, albeit one outfitted in Virginia red brick and quaint colonial architecture.

Several years ago, a waterfront Old Town watering hole called the George Washington Tavern had to close its doors for good. The little pub was a replica of the one where George Washington would stop for a pint when visiting from his Mt. Vernon estate, about 25 miles down the road. The building is now home to a Starbucks.

People who decry the Wal-Mart-ification and Gap-ificaiton of America need to realize that regulation often does more harm to local businesses than predatory pricing, loss-leader business models, or some other imagined corporate evil.

I've lived in or near Old Town for most of the last 10 years. It's not at all common to see an independently-owned antique shop or art gallery get boarded over, only to be replaced in ensuing months by a franchise. It's not difficult to see why. Franchise operators can tap the resources of the parent company, particularly when it comes to accessing legal help with experience navigating through and working with local zoning laws and business regulations.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    "There's a larger lesson in all of this, too. Those who push for federal regulations to rein in "big business" often don't realize that the biggest of big businesses don't mind heavy federal regulation at all."

    That is why big business doesn't really care who is in power. The Democrats give them just as many or more perks than the Republicans. The harder you make it for business, the more of an advantage big business, with their ability to use economies of scale to spread costs, has over small business. It is not surprising at all that Old Town would turn into a bad shopping mall.

  • ||

    A cynical person might suspect that larger corporations are very happy with the regulatory scheme.

    It makes it easier for them to setup franchises (once the indy shops have to close down) and harder for new indy shops to open thus limiting some competition.

  • Reinmoose||

    There's a larger lesson in all of this, too. Those who push for federal regulations to rein in "big business" often don't realize that the biggest of big businesses don't mind heavy federal regulation at all.

    In general, yes. It allows even the most non-essential corporation to gain the benefits of a natural monopoly without the government limitations on profits. It helps big business stay in business, and ensures that they need to do very little innovating to do so.

  • Marcvs||

    Radley, not to nitpick, but doesn't your conclusion that the regulations have "ruined" this neighborhood pretty much destroy your statement:

    I'm fairly anti-regulation, but even I don't have too much of a problem with city ordinances that attempt to preserve unique neighborhoods with a distinct vibe or identity, particularly when the aim is to keep the quaint, historical atmosphere of a place like Old Town. These sorts of regulations are about as localized as you can get, in this case covering just a couple dozen or so city blocks.



    Or is this just a case of "if the right people were in charge"? ;)

  • ||

    Big businesses know that a heavy regulatory burden is the best way to make sure small- and medium-sized businesses never rise up to challenge the

    Amen! People seem clueless that the marginal coast for a large corporation to comply with a regulation is far, far, far lower than that for a small business. Many federal regulations acknowledge this and exclude business with fewer than 50 employees but most local regulation make no exceptions whatsoever.

    One the biggest unquestioned assumptions in modern American politics is the idea that big government reigns in big business. Far to many people seem in love with the mythology of the heroic politician reigning in the powerful greedy capitalist to ever stop and think if the narrative reflects reality at all.

  • Guy Montag||

    It always seemed to me that (relatively big) government was artifically keeping the "main streets" and small-town downtowns in existance long past their natural market life.

  • Guy Montag||

    Ooops! of course I did not RTFA, but Marcvs' quote of Mr. Balko:

    I'm fairly anti-regulation, but even I don't have too much of a problem with city ordinances that attempt to preserve unique neighborhoods with a distinct vibe or identity, particularly when the aim is to keep the quaint, historical atmosphere of a place like Old Town. These sorts of regulations are about as localized as you can get, in this case covering just a couple dozen or so city blocks.

    Yea, that is what I am saying and I am sorry to completely disagree with Mr. Balko about this being anything in the 'good' category.

  • ||

    Great piece, Radley, although I suspect you're going to have to turn in your libertarian decoder ring.

    This, especially, is exactly right: The question is, should you really need to have to keep lawyer on retainer in order to open a business in Old Town? Is that really the kind of business atmosphere the city's elected officials want to create? And if Old Town is going to make that a requirement-intentionally or not-what effect is that going to have on the small boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores that make up the very atmosphere the regulations are trying to promote?

    The answer, I think, lies in what's happened to Old Town over the last decade or so. It's been Gap-i-fied. The independent spots are closing down, and they're being replaced by familiar national chains.


    On the residential end of things, it is common to find, especially in suburban communities, a deliberate effort to use the permitting burder to stall development.

  • ||

    I think the point about the permitting burdern and the regulations themselves being distinct issues is worth repeating.

  • ||

    But Joe in Old Town's defense, if they got rid of the historic preservation regulations, wouldn't you be criticizing them for letting the place go? Also, the regulations may have increased the spped of the gapification but did they really cause it? Honestly, short of just refusing to grant corporate places the right to open a business, what would have stopped the big chains from moving into such a prime location?

    I am sypathetic to your argument and don't like what has happened to Old Town. But at the same time, I think we are in the minority. For whatever reason, people like the big chains and shop at them. I am not sure how long you can really deny the reality of the market.

  • ||

    John,

    But Joe in Old Town's defense, if they got rid of the historic preservation regulations, wouldn't you be criticizing them for letting the place go??

    Yes, I would. The subject of the entire piece, and of my comment, was about the PERMITTING BURDEN, not the regulations. Two distinct variable, independent of each other.

    Honestly, short of just refusing to grant corporate places the right to open a business, what would have stopped the big chains from moving into such a prime location? Other local businesses opening up more often, reducing the supply of available space for the Gap to occupy. It wouldn't stop the chains entirely, but it would change the balance.

    You are making a big mistake by meekly accepting that the status quo represents the functioning of the market.

  • Reinmoose||

    You are making a big mistake by meekly accepting that the status quo represents the functioning of the market.

    Happens all the time
    Drives me nuts
    (I don't mean wrt John, but in general)

    Permitting processes suck for small businesses. They're one of those hidden costs that many don't realize they are impozing on the very same people they want to see stay in business. Regulatory blunders of this sort are definitely tragic.

  • Reinmoose||

    wow... impozing?
    *goes to get another cup of coffee*

  • ||

    The people in the town are killing Main Street because the prefer to shop a Walmart.

    Price wars are at the heart of it. The majority want cheap prices, they don't care about Main Street. If you think that prices wars are a good thing, you can't complain about the negative effects, namely mom and pop stores closing.

    In reality price wars hurt the buisnesses too, but it's become part of the game. They will discount stuff to a small profit margin, which means less profit, which means staff reductions and a harder time paying your vendors. Then customers are walking around wondering why they can't get any help and why the product selection is getting worse. I once worked at a music store chain selling instruments, and they hurt themselves bad playing that game.

    Remember nobody beast the Wiz? They beat themselves right out of buisness.

  • Sam Grove||

    Price wars are at the heart of it. The majority want cheap prices, they don't care about Main Street. If you think that prices wars are a good thing, you can't complain about the negative effects, namely mom and pop stores closing.

    Expensive government accounts for price becoming a dominant factor over convenience.

  • ||

    Main Street is more of a place for frills, coffee, drinks and leisure. It isn't the shopping center it used to be. It isn't surprising that a general store turned into a Starbucks.

  • ||

    TrickyVic,

    I assure you, people in Alexandria, VA are not spurning Old Town to shop at Wal Mart.

    Lamar,

    That's definitely something real, but I don't think it describes what's going on in Old Town right now. For one thing, general shopping/clothing stores like the Gap ARE flocking to that sort of retail area. Just line M Street a couple of Metro stops up.

    Second, the trend of major regional retailers leaving old urban centers has just about run its course at this point. They left Old Town years or decades ago.

  • Reinmoose||

    Where I come from, Main St. is most definitely for eating and drinking, and drinking, and drinking...

    It didn't really hurt it much when Wal-mart moved in on the other side of town. Home Depot and Lowes only caused 84 Lumber to close, but none of the locally owned lumber suppliers. The biggest point of vacancy we had downtown was when the common council put a moritorium on new eateries/bars because "we need more retail downtown!"
    When they waited a year and didn't get any more retail, they lifted the moritorium and 4 restaurants opened in 3 months.
    Way to hurt the building-owners who would have otherwise been collecting rent. That's a really smart move.

    *disclaimer - my home town ranks in the top 100 cities in the country for percentage of people who walk to work, according to City-data.com

  • ||

    I remember the idiot congressman Jim Moran, back when he was the idiot mayor of Alexandria. The city has had an unfortunate history of being the starting point for a lot of larval democrat politicos, who all want to get press by beating their chests about how much they've "accomplished". Their so-called accomplishments are usually the kinds of useless, destructive, and expensive regulations like Balko describes in the article.

    -jcr

  • ||

    An issue not discussed, is that a successful shopping area leads to higher property values, which lead to much higher rents.

    We live in Long Beach Ca, which has a nice eclectic shopping district known as second street. Second street use to have a very nice mix of restaurants and shops that carried a very wide variety of goods and services. Yet, as real estate prices escalated landlords began to radically increase their rents. This slowly drove out many small or marginal businesses.

    For example, they had a very nice mom and pop hardware store that carried a wide variety of basic hardware. Yet, the building was sold and the new owner tripled the rent. The antiques store, same issue.

    Since the area is still popular businesses have moved in but the only ones that can afford the rents are the large chain stores. Gone the local book store in place a Starbucks. Gone the local pharmacy in its place a rite aid. Gone local eateries, replace by baja fresh. There are now two starbucks within about five hundred feet of one another.

    The problem from my perspective is that I don't see ANY solution to this problem. Lower governmental regulation will not solve the problem of high rents. Rent control is an absolute disaster and would kill the neighborhood even faster. Yet, every unique reason for traveling to that part of Long Beach is fast disappearing.

    Regards

    Joe dokes

  • ||

    The solution, Mr. Dokes, is for your city to rezone nearby properties to commercial. You'd have an even-larger nice shopping district with both big and small, local and national, shops and restaurants and bank branches, all together.

    When we redid my city's zoning ordinance, I expanded one of the neighborhood commercial districts, and at least one house that used to be in the residential district is now being renovated with display windows on the ground floor.

  • ||

    """Second, the trend of major regional retailers leaving old urban centers has just about run its course at this point. They left Old Town years or decades ago."""

    That's true, and thinking about it, I'd would agree with decades ago. Main street was dying before Wal-Mart existed. I think shopping malls has something to do with it back in the 70's.

  • ||

    Main street was dying before Wal-Mart existed. I think shopping malls has something to do with it back in the 70's.

    Sometimes Main Street doesn't simply die because of the shopping malls. In Sunnyvale, California, the shopping mall killed Main Street: In the early 70's blocks and blocks of downtown were razed to put a mall in their place.

    Now the mall has been torn down and new blocks and blocks are being put back in one giant development.

  • ||

    My town-Washington Court House, Ohio-has seen its small businesses in downtown go downhill too. Though I don't think the local government is big on "historical preservation" (calling our downtown "historical" would be a bit of a strech). However, I do know that we are the victim of mismanagement at the state level. Due to the tax-happy policies of ex-Gov. Bob Taft, the little guys can't survive anymore. I know this because downtown's downturn occured long before the big chains started coming here in droves.

    I guess the moral of these stories is that regulation and high taxes (the two tend to go together hand-in-hand) are the true root of the "Gapification" of small towns.

  • GILMORE||

    balko

    great piece... as always - clear and to the point, and the subject matter is one of these all-too-common 'unintended consequences' of too much government. Things that have direct impact on many people's lives, and things that often are ignored in plain daylight.

  • ||

    Since the area is still popular businesses have moved in but the only ones that can afford the rents are the large chain stores.

    You may not have intended your comment to sound like it does, but there is nothing about large chain stores that make high rents inherently more affordable to them than to a smaller enterprise. The individual store has to net enough to cover its own rent. That is true whether the owner is rich or the owner is poor.

    The advantages of a chain are a recognized name and a tried and true business model designed to maximize the earnings of the individual store.

  • Shannon Love||

    Historic or atheistic preservation might be more economically and fairly accomplished by the use of covenants negotiated between property owners. Property owners would all have a stake in maintaining the preservation but at the same time would not have an incentive to unduly burden themselves.

    Entailed covenants would provide near eternal protection. Preserved properties would rise in value. Everybody is happy and no gets a gun held to their head.

  • ||

    MikeP-

    Are you referring to Valco? When I lived in the area as a child (early/mid 80s) that was THE place. When I moved to Mountain View ~5 years ago, it was embarrasing. I kept looking for reasons to go there and still only hit it like twice a year.

    OR are you referring to the "downtown Sunnyvale" area just north of El Camino that's like 3 blocks by 2 blocks but butts up against that empty mall that makes Valco look like a fit young 22-year old?

    Oh, wait. It actually doesn't matter which one you're referring to. Go Sunnyvale.

  • ||

    Downtown Sunnyvale. The empty mall you remember has been demolished, and a new town center is arising behind a construction fence surrounding a half-mile square.

    I was wrong about the dates: it was the late 70's. It is amusing to skim the redevelopment website's history of the failure of the past redevelopment that destroyed the prior downtown in favor of the mall. The mall may now be gone, but the bonds that paid for it will live on until 2023.

    Oh, well. You live and learn ... and tear down 184 acres of property you wish you hadn't.

  • ||

    I looked more closely at the map at the website. Apparently the entire redevelopment project area is 184 acres. The actual area destroyed redeveloped was closer to 35 acres, less than a quarter-mile square.

  • brock noland||

    Yes, regulations are "barriers to entry" which limit competition and restrict that competition to larger well established companies. As such, yes, big business loves regulations.

  • ||

    "there is nothing about large chain stores that make high rents inherently more affordable to them than to a smaller enterprise. The individual store has to net enough to cover its own rent."

    Having managed a branch for a large retail chain I can tell you that this statement is completely false. When my company (which I no longer work for) opened a new branch, the businees plan was built such that the new branch was budgeted to lose money for the first 5 years of existence. That means it was supported with revenues from existing branches and that it did not need to make the money to cover exorbitant rent for the first 5 years (generally the term of a commercial lease). After 5 years, the branch was either showing a profit or closed down (odds were about 50/50).

    I recall moving our branch in Berkeley CA from one storefront to another about 50 feet away. The cost of the move should have been about $50k but with the added city red tape, it cost about $250k. My large corporation easily absorbed the extra cost but show me a small business that could afford the $200k difference. The ironic part was reading in the newspaper about how the city just couldn't figure out how why there were so many vacant storefronts and were spending all sorts of money on consultants to figure out how to attract businesses to the area.

  • ||

    It's no surprise that this is true (big companies not caring, or even being happy about, regulations). Long ago, large, successful railroad co's would lobby to get licensing and safety regs on the books to crowd out start-up rail co's that were eating into their profits. I wish I could find the article that discussed it, but I have been trying for quite some time now in vain.

    Anywho, that regulatory laws act as a tax is no surprise, I learned about it in micro econ.

  • ||

    The author writes "I'm fairly anti-regulation, but even I don't have too much of a problem with city ordinacnes that attempt to preserve unique neighborhoods..."

    I thought this guy believed in free markets, free minds. Apparently not!

    Travis

  • ||

    When my company (which I no longer work for) opened a new branch, the businees plan was built such that the new branch was budgeted to lose money for the first 5 years of existence.

    I considered noting that large companies did have the advantages of employing people specifically to perfect the business model and of tolerating higher variances in revenue. But I am surprised to hear that they would particularly plan to eat that much cost before discovering whether it was long-run profitable or not.

  • ||

    Long ago, large, successful railroad co's would lobby to get licensing and safety regs on the books to crowd out start-up rail co's that were eating into their profits. I wish I could find the article that discussed it, but I have been trying for quite some time now in vain.

    The canonical reference for this is Gabriel Kolko's Railroads and Regulation, 1877-1916. His Triumph of Conservatism covers the same effect in the Progressive Era regulation of industry in general.

    I quote from Railroads and Regulation...

    In the following pages I shall attempt critically to reexamine the relation of the railroads to federal regulation and the assumption that the national government consciously or in fact always acted in a manner that the majority of important railroad men considered fundamentally inimical to their interests. Rather, I will suggest that the intervention of the federal government not only failed to damage the interests of the railroads, but was positively welcomed by them since the railroads never really had the power over the economy, and their own industry, often ascribed to them. Indeed, the railroads, not the farmers and shippers, were the most important single advocates of federal regulation from 1877 to 1916. Even when they frequently disagreed with the details of specific legislation, they always supported the principle of federal regulation as such. And as the period advances, this commitment to regulation grew ever stronger.
    ...
    The crucial point is that the railroads, for the most part, consistently accepted the basic premises of federal regulation since only through the positive intervention of the national political structure could the destabilizing, costly effects of cutthroat competition, predatory speculators, and greedy shippers be overcome.



    For online reading, I did find a 1971 Roy Childs Reason article "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism" with many notes from the Kolko books.

  • TokyoTom||

    Sounds to me like the businesses in Old Town need to get organized and start doing things their own way.

    BTW, the "WalMart problem" is becoming a major topic here in Japan, and the US is getting some of the blame:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/business/worldbusiness/05gap.html

  • ||

    Joe, in theory you may be right about a distinction between regulation and the permitting process, but in reality the two are usually fellow travelers. The permitting process is a way of enforcing such regulations and generating administrative revenue at the same time.

    In the case of Old Town Alexandria, I can see regulatory issues being part of the problem, but there is an economic/cultural factor, as well.

    A couple of decades ago, Old Town sat right next to slum areas and didn't attract the seriously wealthy the way Georgetown does. Now, all of those quaint rowhouses are multi-million dollar residences, filled with the blandness that seems to accompany the Washington wealthy. The funky businesses that used to dot King Street even a decade ago don't seem to be what the Washington wealthy are interested in, for whatever reason. Some non-chain businesses seem to be doing ok, but they are the type that cater to that crowd.

    This impacted me personally about a week ago--a longtime used record store that I hadn't visited for awhile turned up missing when I went to look for some obscure jazz stuff.

  • ||

    Right on the money. At first big business loathed regulation now they open their arms like long lost lovers to one another.

    Big business loves the regulators and even goes above and beyond what the Federal Regs call for in an attempt to look progressive with the whole deal.

    Those that survived the regulation revolution now realize that start ups can never compete just on regulation alone. We are truly so very fucked in this country. Poiticians passing regs to favor big business and then getting lobby positions for those businesses when they retire or lose an election. This is a politicians true pension plan. The payoff is not just the campaign contributions but the big cushy job when they get out of office.

    TERM LIMITS and a law that forbids anyone that ever held office from ever lobbying it is about the only thing I can see to stop the insanity.

  • ||

    We live in Long Beach Ca, which has a nice eclectic shopping district known as second street. Second street use to have a very nice mix of restaurants and shops that carried a very wide variety of goods and services. Yet, as real estate prices escalated landlords began to radically increase their rents. This slowly drove out many small or marginal businesses.

    For example, they had a very nice mom and pop hardware store that carried a wide variety of basic hardware. Yet, the building was sold and the new owner tripled the rent. The antiques store, same issue.

    Since the area is still popular businesses have moved in but the only ones that can afford the rents are the large chain stores. Gone the local book store in place a Starbucks. Gone the local pharmacy in its place a rite aid. Gone local eateries, replace by baja fresh. There are now two starbucks within about five hundred feet of one another.

    The problem from my perspective is that I don't see ANY solution to this problem. Lower governmental regulation will not solve the problem of high rents. Rent control is an absolute disaster and would kill the neighborhood even faster. Yet, every unique reason for traveling to that part of Long Beach is fast disappearing.



    Hmmm- what would Herr Schumpeter say about this? I suspect many of the businesses which have "disappeared" have merely been displaced, and are currently contributing to the improvement of another part of the world. And the less imaginative members of the business community will one day raise their heads and say, hey- that looks like a place *we need to be.* [Note the absence of government planners in this scenario.]

    And- the more (and more complex) regulations you have, the more permits you need.

  • ||

    " But I am surprised to hear that they would particularly plan to eat that much cost before discovering whether it was long-run profitable or not."

    They had MBAs who issued reports assuring that every new location would be a goldmine. When it came down to it, the profit from successful stores more than made up for the clunkers.

  • ||

    """Yet, as real estate prices escalated landlords began to radically increase their rents. This slowly drove out many small or marginal businesses."""

    The same is happening in NYC. I've known several small business people who had to get out of buiness because the landlord jacked up the rent.

  • ||

    I spent a lot of time in London several years ago and between pubs would do a bit of window shopping. The 100 MB zip drive that you could buy in any store in the US for $100 was also 100 in London. Of course the monetary unit was Pounds so the price was $170 at the then current exchange rate.

    Things changed rapidly for English shop owners after the "Chunnel" was opened. In spite of their efforts to tariff any continental goods that were purchased in France and Spain the shop owners had to reduce prices to be more competitive.

    The upshot being you have to make a choice, either you want more money in the hands of the consumers or you want more money going to the owners of small, quaint, inefficient shops. I'd rather have choices but choices evidently aren't for everybody.

  • ||

    Regulations and licensing in seattle are equally onerous, one needs an handful of licenses to begin with to even think about starting a business - city, county and state.

    I'll wait until I move out of this sewage pit to start a business...

    Does keep it safe for the big boys who can get massive bank loans to be able to pay off the pols.

    Or creates YA black market atmosphere...

  • ||

    ChrisO,

    My experience as a regulator tells me otherwise.

    I went from Lowell, which has a pro-growth philosophy and extensive regulations to Westford, a rich NIMBY suburb with a skeleton of a zoning code. Let me tell you, developers and businesspeople liked Lowell a lot more.

    If you have to use the nice window frames, that's a few grand more on a million dollar project. If your project takes eight months and a bunch of money for studies before you get a permit, it doesn't matter if the city doesn't make you change a single thing. That is a much greater burden.

    Developers, landowners, and businessowners are a lot more willing to adhere to a set of clear regulations than to face an ugly permitting process. Ask 'em, 99/100 will tell you that.

  • ||

    There's another effect, perhaps more subtle but just as pernicious.

    To a lawyer or permit developer from, e.g., Starbucks, the local permitting and licensing authorities are just another bunch of hicks. They have the money to run roughshod over them, or the time and resources to wait them out -- and the local yokels know it but can't do anything about it.

    But the yokels, who have little or no power or control over the big-box or big-chain people, are in absolute control over the individuals who fall within their power, and, in compensation for their powerlessness to budge the big guys, spend all their time dreaming up more hoops for the individual business people to jump through. Tell Starbucks their sign is two inches out of place, and the manager shrugs and calls Corporate. Tell the local guy, getting by on a shoestring trying to compete, that his sign is the wrong shade of puce and will have to be repainted, and you're likely to elicit tears of anguish. Very satisfying to the personality type likely to become a local official in the first place.

    Regards,
    Ric

  • Francesco Sinibaldi||

    Breaths and beautiful sounds.

    In the amazing
    song of a little
    blackbird chanting
    alone in a beautiful
    dream I hear
    glimmers of magical
    quietness, the love
    for the dark and
    a tender idea
    recalling the silence.

  • ||

    When a friend was opening a Petland and Aquarium Adventure store in Hoffman Estates Il,
    He dcided to do a combo store under one roof-the first such location in the world and easily the largest. The signs for both were "pre" approved, but when it came time to put the signs up he was told by the sign committee to "pick one or the other".
    Apparently, they had decided that because it was 2 stores under one roof, he was not able to put up 2 signs because everything had been done under one permit and there was a pass thru between the stores. Trying for a loophole, he changed the name to Aquarium Adventure and Petland-one sign. He was still told no. His last hope was to contact the realtor who was able to talk to somebody on the board that pushed it thru albeit 2/3 the original size of what was allowed. I could not believe that someone would tell him what he could or could not name his business-especially since it was not offensive or the wrong colors. Until that contact got involved, they were NOT going to let him put both names up even though construction was almost complete and it would most certainly have caused the failure of the one that was unsigned.

  • ||

    At the Mercy.

    In the resonant
    cypress situated,
    like a trembling
    leaf, in the breath
    of a novel and
    innocent morning,
    a sparrow alights
    and always, in the
    sun's redness, a
    delicate flake
    discovers a dream.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement