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Are "Tasteful" Chain Stores a Good Fit for San Anselmo?

The San Anselmo Town Council is still indecisive about chain store regulations in town. Some want a ban on national chains, while others aren't opposed to the town allowing “tasteful” formula retail. Where do you stand? Tell us in the comments!

 

The San Anselmo town council members found themselves at a standstill late Wednesday night after discussing, for the third time, if formula-retail businesses belong in downtown San Anselmo.

“We are not going anywhere,” Councilman Jeff Kroot said to his colleagues around 9:30 p.m., after more than an hour of a circular discussion that mirrored the last two discussions the council had on the chain stores, first in June and again in July. 

Some council members felt the town doesn’t need to do anything to limit chain stores. 

Mayor Tom McInerney said there isn’t a need for a ban since San Anselmo hasn’t had any chain stores attempt to come downtown. “It’s a solution in search of problem. I’ve heard comment about not wanting to lose the character of downtown – and we haven’t.”

But other council members shared similar concerns expressed by Jennifer Hansen, the owner of Sax consignment store in downtown San Anselmo. 

“There are some major corporations that have been experimenting with creating small niche boutiques,” she told the council during public comment.

One example, Hansen said, is Georgi & Willow, the new San Anselmo boutique created by the Bay Area chapter of Goodwill Industries. “I worry about the precedent. If a big corporation wanted to start opening small boutiques, it would put a boutique that’s not part of the big [corporate] network at an unbelievable disadvantage.”

Councilman Jeff Kroot, who pushed for the council to pass a ban on national chains, said big corporations “do have money, they do have power and they just suck the life out of these businesses. They are kind like sharks and just have to keep moving ahead.” 

 

SOME COUNCILMEMBERS LIKE THE CONCEPT OF URBAN OUTFITTERS, SUR LA TABLE OR CRATE & BARREL NICHE BOUTQIUES

Councilwoman Lori Lopin, Vice Mayor Kay Coleman and Kroot were among the council members who said they want to ensure that a ban wouldn’t put the town at legal risk.

“There is something to be said for free enterprise and competition,” said San Anselmo Interim Planning Director Diane Henderson, who has spoken against the town adopting a ban.

Some council members weren’t horrified at the idea of a corporation opening a niche store in town. “What if Urban Outfitters wanted to open a small store in San Anselmo? I think people would be congratulating it,” McInerney said, after explaining there is nowhere in town for his teenage daughter to shop.

Councilman Ford Greene said he wanted to see an inventory of what businesses would fall under the “national chain” umbrella. “There may be some very tasteful businesses,” Greene said. 

Examples could include Sur La Table or Crate & Barrel, which could be nice additions to town, he said. He pointed to the Fourth Street Shops in Berkeley as an example of chains and other local businesses successfully coexisting. “It’s low-key, high-quality and has a lot of people there all the time.” 

Lopin expressed concern that the town doesn’t have any tools it can use to block a chain retailer that would be direct competition to local shops. “I don’t want to be reactive. It’s going to be too late to do anything about it once they are here,” she said. 

Deborah London, co-owner of the San Anselmo Coffee Roastery, spoke in favor of the town blocking corporations from opening small boutiques. “We’ve been in the coffee business 32 years and the [San Anselmo Coffee Roastery] is our 14th store. We’ve come up against businesses like Starbucks.”

London told the council about Starbucks' attempt to drive them out of their Mill Valley coffee shop in 1986. The community rallied around them, but they ended up having to pay $30,000 and a tripled rent to match the offer Starbucks had made their landlord, she said.

 

THREE OPTIONS FOR FORMULA RETAIL

Staff prepared three options for the council to address chain stores (included in the attached staff report). They could ban formula-retail in a certain designated area (such as downtown), defer the topic to the Economic Development Committee or adopt a permit requirement for chain stores, which is similar to what Fairfax, Sausalito and San Francisco use.

Earlier in the discussion, it seemed the council was leaning toward letting the Economic Development Committee handle the matter. But after Coleman expressed some concerns that the committee can barely hold meetings due to conflicting schedules, the council had second thoughts.  

“I think [we’d be] asking a lot of people who haven’t been involved in government before,” Kroot said.

 

LITTLE DISCUSSION ABOUT THE PERMIT PROCESS

The council was initially focused on banning the stores or deferring the subject. Coleman was the first to bring up the conditional use permit (CUP) option as a middle ground for the conflicted council, but when staff was asked about it, town staff focused on how difficult it would be to define “formula retail” without explaining how the CUP process works. 

It also appeared some council members didn't understand the conditional use permit option.

If the council adopted a conditional use permit requirement, applications for a formula-retail business would be subject to a planning commission hearing.

 

"KIND OF LIKE PORNOGRAPHY"

Defining formula retail – which would have to be done for either a ban or a conditional use permit requirement - was clearly an overwhelming task for the town officials.

“The definitional challenge is daunting,” Greene said. “It’s kind of like pornography - I’ll recognize it when I see it.” 

The council agreed to, once again, bring the item back to the council later, after they have additional discussion with staff on the topic.

 

What do you think the council should do? 

Would you support corporations opening niche boutiques in town? 

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

 

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Connie Rodgers, President/CEO September 27, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Jessica, Interesting analogy of Tuesday's council meeting.
michael Craycraft September 27, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Another factor that should be considered is that if we let one "tasteful" chain into town we can legally no longer prevent others from muscling in. Michael Craycraft
T McDermott September 27, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Only if they occupy "Existing" buildings with no remodeling that changes the height, front or footprint of the building. Chains come in with new buildings that alter forever the complexion of the street. Carmel has been able to keep it's ambiance by limiting business to number of occupants per building and providing employee parking off-site. Remember chains don't want a little money from their stores they want it all, so they will design, implement and advertise to that end. I say keep Mom and Pops only. Keep the little guys who are local and spend locally. I'm sure there are boutique markets that could be encouraged to set up shop. Why not a Cowboy creamery and bread shop? How about a local grass fed beef butcher or local organic vegetable sales. The farmers market seems to be thriving how about stores that sell those products as consignments, Woodlands Market is a screaming success and it's all separate vendors selling under one roof.
Sierra Salin September 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Tastefool Chains? Bah! Much of Downtown San Anselmo is likely going to be repeatedly flooded in the coming years anyway, due in large part to our indiscriminate consuming, driving, and turning everything into lifeless buy products. Downtown S.A. should never have been built in the creek to begin with. We are getting the world we deserve, and if you really want to live in a corporate logo with a smiley faced uniform, while eating your GMO Frankenfoods amidst endless wars and the "legitimate rape" of our world by bankers, and corporatins, then buy all means, lets go shopping. After all, appearances ARE more important than substance. Keep it local folks. oops, I mean, where's the remote, there's a sale at Feel Goods, where I can say hi to grandma, who is working there for $1.99/hour and selling disposable stuff made by slaves in another part of the world.
Sarah Fletcher September 27, 2012 at 04:19 PM
S Fletcher I don't live in San Anselmo, but I would love to see a small Sur La Table or Crate and Barrel in town. I would definitely shop those stores. To my knowledge neither one would be competing with a Mom and Pop store. My only problem with shopping in San Anselmo is the parking, and if you brought in good, but small, chain stores, your parking problems would be compounded.
Michael Fahey September 27, 2012 at 06:16 PM
The ultimate goal should be to make the downtown more vibrant and bring more folks there to support ALL businesses. Tasteful stores with classic architecture (removing the tasteless stuff there now), will attract more people and just as anchor stores in shopping centers, will support more and better mom and pops. Everyone benefits. We're not talking about Walmart or Target here. This town needs improvement and some relief for all the struggling retailers who are starved for more shoppers. Redevelopment is essential to make any downtown work and it need not be at the expense of the heart and character of our beloved town. We love it but so far we aren't supporting it to the degree it needs to be a vibrant place to shop. We need to rid it of the disgusting 50's and 60's architecture and the only way to do that is to bring money into the town. We can always build parking to accommodate drivers. God forbid this is is the only problem we face. I believe the flooding will be addressed before long.
Jessica September 27, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Bad idea! This is one of the reasons why towns like San Anselmo and Fairfax are so special and quaint. It's important to think about the implications of making this change. Will people looking to move to a "quiet little town" be as interested in these small towns if they are flooded with chain retail stores and the shoppers, cars, traffic (both foot and vehicle) that come along with that? I know I wouldn't be AS in love with living in Fairfax as I do know. Another idea could be to run the town like Arcata in northern CA. They have a set number of permits. No new chain shops can come in until one of those permits become available. But even that could be a slippery slope. I really hope this doesn't move forward.
Elvis September 27, 2012 at 07:28 PM
people have to ask "where's the money?" and then ask: where is the money gonna go once I buy something there? Until we realize that the facade on the store front is a facade, our town or any town will be nothing more than that, a phony place to live where all the money goes bye bye to a corporate ofc in another state (or country). Stand up for what is good and proper and people will respect you. Small niche or boutique chains with corporate ofcs in other states should not be supported by the town council nor anyone that lives here. Also- I know people that shop at target and it is disgusting to me. As a consumer you have to be educated and shop locally otherwise you will be without options. - I saw this first hand in a small town in massachusetts where I grew up in the late 70's-80's. The town is basically a ghost town, but there is a walmart nearby, target, dunkin donuts, Old Navy, crate and barrel etc. all within driving distance. .totally worthless, not one san anselmo reisdent would ever live there, and you can forget about fairfax residents (they are in a league of their own -that is a compliment) .. remember beauty is only skin deep.
John Ferguson September 27, 2012 at 08:08 PM
This comment makes little sense to me - what difference does it make who 'owns' the company when you're talking about revenue streams? Where does the money go? Well, it starts out in your pocket and when you buy something the portions that are kept local are things like business taxes and salaries for employees which are the same regardless of the ownership of the company. Unless we restrict stores in order to have more locally made goods, it doesn't much matter who the owners are from a financial perspective. From an aesthetic perspective, maybe there's some argument but as far as revenue goes your real competition is online and in other towns.
Joann Cristofani-Cassidy September 27, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Where are the shoppers going to park?
Elvis September 27, 2012 at 09:52 PM
- sales tax goes to CA, as to employees, there is very good chance they will be at minimum wage at chain stores and therefore often won't live in san anselmo. FYI: San Anselmo bus. tax for a company that grosses between $750,000-1mil $ is around $600 for the WHOLE year. that's less than .01% of local money spent . I agree that the goods we buy are important as well, but certainly a chain store is not going to emphasize local products, but rather the highest profit margin on products that they can buy in large quantities for lowest price. Our best option to BUY local is to have shops owned locally that will be in the local loop, - product, shopper, employee, owner, town and back. Any one of those elements out of the loop decreases the amount of money that stays in the community. Studies have been done on this and the point has been proven. yes shopping online and stores in other towns are competition, so it takes a lot of integrity to maintain this loop once it is created. In re: to ownership of the company making no difference, I disagree, if you take a company like blockbuster video for instance, the local store would pay its local employees and taxes, but the bulk of money collected would go to the corp. ofc. in Florida to pay for the large number of employees in that ofc and to pay off debt to a large bank somewhere on the east coast. In the mean time, said corp., when it needs to downsize, has no connection to san anselmo. feel free to sub any chain's name above
Chris O September 28, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Problem is "Tasteful" to you may not be "Tasteful" to me. Examples given do not inspire confidence. Is there something wrong with downtown San Anselmo that it needs to be improved on? Most out of towners I bring through wish to god their downtown strip was as free of corporate influence. Michael Fahey: "Vibrancy" meaning what? Read: http://www.thebaffler.com/past/dead_end_on_shakin_street/print
Rebekah Collins September 28, 2012 at 04:52 AM
How on earth would a crate and barrel or a Sur la table not hurt local merchants ?? The 'tasteful' big chains do the most damage because they directly compete with small stores that actually sell home wares made by local artisans / craft people.. . Sorry, but how could anyone possibly compare 4th st big city Berkeley's high foot traffic coming from the whole bay area to tiny San Anselmo? And frankly - I just don't get how this is a 'confusing issue' for the council. 'Shop local' has been around for a very long time now- complete with evidence and research on the benefits . . .
Rebekah Collins September 28, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Protecting local business goes far beyond local money. My kids know Elvis from Red Hill Pet from babyhood, They know Polly at Fairfax Variety since they were babies, and Terry from Shop for All Seasons since they were babies, they ate gellato at Javad's before they were born, They know Michael from Book Smith, They Know Melissa and Ray at Scoop, They know Hooda from Revolution 9, They know Ann and Mike from Iron Springs, They know Elias ( same name as my son . . .) from Burritoville, and so many, many others. My kids want to go to Sherman's to get something for Mother's or Father's day not Crate and Barrel ! People running these businesses are not in it to make millions - they want to earn a living being in community and are proud to watch all our kids grow up, admiring and loving them. Our children feel good and safe to be in their home towns and that is WHY !! Will my children find your votes 'Tasteful', if you make it easy to take the heart out of where they live, make it easy to disappear these people from their lives and the lives of all the little ones who need to toddle into the shops, learn to go downtown alone - then get their first job with the local shop owner the've known their whole life? Corporate personhood does not a role model or a community make. And in case you haven't noticed that type of personhood is responsible for a lot of hell on earth and the only kind of community they form is a merger.
suellen September 28, 2012 at 04:03 PM
To me this last comment by Rebeka Collins says it all...the shopping experience at chain stores in entirely different...we have a jewel or jewels in the shopping districts of Fairfax and San Anselmo...and we aleady are a mecca for people who "get it" and want to shop or local stores and dine in town...San Anselmo is never going to be the place where you would shop for big pllows and quilts and lots of back to school underwear...that all happens at the malls..lets not get confused and give away what we have. Of course those examples given..a "sur la table" would undermine business on "the street". Those kind of stores have employees who don't even know where the are...if you ask them if they know a good bookstore in town they answer "I don't know, I am not from around here" and so you learn not to talk to anyone in the store but just hand over your credit card...it is OK but it is not like the feeling Rebekah described so well in previous post..You make a different kind of relationship with small shop owners and even stop by to say hello when not buying anything..Suellen
Chris O September 28, 2012 at 04:46 PM
John Ferguson: the idea is local merchants live locally and will spend the money you spent in their store locally. If you spend money in a store owned by someone (individual or corporation) elsewhere, the money you spend in that store eventually gets spent or invested elsewhere. The benefits of keeping money local should be obvious. I don't understand the tasteless desire to make this cool unique place resemble every other strip mall town.
John Ferguson September 28, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Chris, I think we need to separate the two arguments being made here because they don't really have anything to do with each other. You can say that you want locally owned and operated businesses because they're aesthetically superior (no one is making the counter argument to this, to my knowledge) and because you want the ownership of the business to be local so they are tuned in to local concerns. That's all well and good. Financially, this will be difficult because it's just easier for chains to expand than it is for brand new concepts to be launched. In the end, it probably comes down to money vs. aesthetics. Be prepared to put your money where your beliefs are.
Lucy Autrey Wilson September 28, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I agree with suellen. Let's not turn San Anselmo into another Walnut Creek.
charles yo September 28, 2012 at 07:29 PM
@ John Ferguson - John, sadly, you keep missing the point when it comes to the economic and social food chain here. Separating the aesthetics out is fine, there is no disagreement with that at all. What is at stake here is the long term financial and societal bonds that come from having local businesses that exist as opposed to chains. Clearly you don't get the difference between having a shop in my space that would pay me nothing but minimum wage to work here, giving me little $$ that i'm going to invest in home ownership, schools and other businesses (local or otherwiest). In essence, they have no stake in being here, and give me, as a minimum wage employee with no benefits, no financial or social stake in being here. Its a loosening of bonds on every level, from job creation to home ownership to schools to community envolvement. As a local small business owner, I can employ people, reinvest the money that i make in having a home here, paying business taxes, putting money back in to the community ON EVERY LEVEL. Unlike making $8 an hour, I have equity in every level of this town. Surely you can see that? And to keep people like me in business it means having people do no more than no spend $6 on a bridge toll to go to Sports Basement to save $10 on a shoe that i have sitting on my shelf right now.
John Ferguson September 28, 2012 at 09:56 PM
C-yo - it's a simplistic argument you're making. You're assuming that there's a strong and relatively inelastic local demand for business space in the Ross Valley to start new businesses in. I know lots of local business owners here and elsewhere and it's just not that easy or that desirable, especially with commodity goods like shoes (your example, not mine..) The advantages of chains from a business perspective are well known and probably don't have to be repeated here. In the end, you can restrict businesses in the Ross Valley to locally owned if you can get the political ball rolling on it, but what may come of that could very well be empty storefronts and a big tax revenue pit. If the pool of local business owners clamoring to get a storefront in San Anselmo were larger, your argument would carry a lot more weight.
Active Thinker September 30, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Sierra~wonderful points. we have enough c-rap in this world. I grew up in San Anselmo and loved to play in the creek. I loved it when it flooded. Hey the town is built where it is. Big Box is going to be even more in our town...people are lazy and want "more" stuff to fill their empty lives. We have enough stuff in the world to live off of...stop buying so much stuff...people in Marin Crack me up. Really green...HUGE SUVS to drive across town for little ones "soccer" practice. Enough
pdog September 30, 2012 at 10:40 PM
tough choice - will I go to the boutique Subway on S.A. Avenue or walk to the one @ RedHill? Probably RedHill... they have a Starbucks and Peet's there. Why has my life become so predictable?

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