San Anselmo isn’t the only Marin town that has recently been looking at restricting chain stores (or formula-retail businesses) downtown.
For the past 14 months, the Mill Valley Planning Commission has been to the city's commercial zoning regulations as part of efforts to keep business development consistent with the city’s character. Some of the proposed changes (attached at right) have garnered more attention than others, particularly a move to and obtain a conditional use permit (CUP) to open downtown. That proposal, along with one to set a square-footage trigger for a (CUP), have from the , and .
Meanwhile, San Anselmo council members still aren’t quite sure how the town could ban, or restrict, chain stores downtown.
After , the council had asked staff to provide more information on the subject.
However, when the topic , some councilmembers agreed they needed additional time to mull over a formula-retail ordinance.
The council may discuss a formula-retail ban at the end of September, according to Town Manager Debbie Stutsman.
Of the 50 , 78 percent of the voters thought the town should have some kind of formula-retail business ban.
Now we’re thinking: What exactly is a formula-retail business?
A San Anselmo staff report provided the council with possible “formula-retail” definitions this summer, such as having 50 or more other retail establishments in the U.S.
Some council members weren’t sure if defining chain stores by a number would work.
In June, , including the founder of High-Tech Burrito and one of the Red Hill Shopping Center owners, who were worried about formula-retail ordinance impacts.
High Tech Burrito Founder and President Greg Maples had told the council he was concerned High Tech Burrito would be considered a chain because there are 12 High Tech Burritos in the Bay Area.
Several council members agreed they wouldn't like to see a chain such as a McDonald's in town, but didn’t have a problem with a High-Tech Burrito opening downtown.
We’re heard similar feelings like High-Tech Burrito but want the town to preserve its character and not be chock-full of chains.
Much of the chain/formula conversation in Mill Valley in recent months has centered around the at 29 Miller Avenue. That effort and was and the .
But with more than 37,000 locations across the globe, Subway is a formula business by any definition. There's a lot of wiggle room between a mom-and-pop shop and the Subways of the world.
Here's how the Mill Valley’s current proposed changes define a formula eating or drinking establishment:
- An establishment which, along with seven or more business locations, is required by contractual or other arrangements to offer standardized employee uniforms, exterior design, food preparation, ingredients, interior decor, menus, or signs; or adopts an appearance, food presentation format, or name which causes it to be substantially identical to another restaurant regardless of ownership or location.
Mill Valley’s current proposed definition for formula retail businesses is largely the same:
- A retail business which, along with seven or more business locations, is required by contractual or other arrangement to maintain any of the following: standardized merchandise, services, décor, uniforms, architecture, colors, signs or other similar features.
Fairfax and Sausalito, the only Marin towns with formula retail ordinances, have taken a slightly different approach.
Fairfax (ordinance attached at right) did not set a minimum threshold for the number of locations, making any business with standardized branding and products a chain.
Sausalito permits chain outlets in five different sections of town, with certain criteria that must be met, including ensuring a new chain is not close to another formula retail in town. In 2010, the Sausalito City Council denied a request for a Peet’s coffee to open near the waterfront because of concerns it would pave the way for other chains.
So where is the line? How many locations must a business have to be considered a chain? Should number of locations matter? Should they be locally owned? And how do you feel about the standardization of uniforms, menus and branding?
Tell us in the Comments below!
Get local headlines and events sent straight to your inbox. All you need to do is signup for our free newsletter. (How easy is that?)