Here comes the chain again

There's something afoot at the corner of Haywood and College streets, and it's not just the massive renovation under way at the former CVS pharmacy site. After all, there are similar projects scattered around downtown Asheville.

A new look: The former CVS location at the corner of Haywood and College streets (above) will get an upgrade with the arrival of an Urban Outfitters store (below). Photo by Jonathan Welch

Still, this particular project stands out enough to have touched off community discussion of a topic this city seems to revisit every few years: Is Asheville's downtown really an appropriate place for chain stores? And if not, what can be done about them?

Asheville's downtown is widely heralded for the independent shops and restaurants that give the city its unique ambiance, say visitors and residents alike. "Funky" is the adjective that's repeatedly invoked, and the city's distinctive character is even cited as a draw for new industry in search of the still emerging "creative class."

So when clothing and home furnishings retailer Urban Outfitters announced in early July that it would open a downtown Asheville store by this fall, the news was sure to generate some reaction. Xpress wrote about the issue of chain stores in 2003, when several franchises set up shop downtown, and again in 2007, when City Council candidate Elaine Lite proposed banning chains in the city center. And in 2005, when Starbucks Coffee Co. opened a store on Charlotte Street (not exactly the heart of the central business district), the brand-new building was vandalized.

Urban Outfitters, however, had huddled with both the Downtown Commission and the Downtown Association beforehand, and their arrival on the scene was hailed in some quarters.

"Overwhelmingly the board thinks the downtown should be a mix of independent, franchise and chain business," Downtown Association President Byron Greiner reports. "If you really think about it, downtown can't survive just on independent businesses."

Chain stores, he maintains, beef up downtown's tax base, and their name recognition attracts a new population of shoppers to the area.

Kristie Quinn agrees. A partner in Boone Associates, an Asheville-based real-estate and development company, she's been working with Urban Outfitters officials and the local landlord.

Urban Outfitters, says Quinn, will give other downtown retailers a boost, because the company is a strong draw with a national reputation. Company representatives, she notes, have said they'll work with other local retailers to ensure that there's no duplication in what's offered.

But some small-business owners aren't so sure, fearing that big chains' deeper pockets could drive up downtown rents.

Asia Mahon, who is president of the Lexington Avenue Merchants Association and owns the dress shop Virtue, says she's spoken with other business owners who fear that Urban Outfitters' arrival will trigger rent increases that could force independent stores out. "I think that's the main fear of these little businesses. We're not as much afraid of the competition as we are of our rents going up and driving us out of business."

No protection

Mahon, who's had various businesses on Lexington since 1992, says low rents have been key to her ability to open shops and keep them going. That, in turn, has spurred other entrepreneurs to launch quirky boutiques that have helped Asheville build its reputation as a one-of-a-kind shopping destination.

Pat Whalen, president of Public Interest Projects, a business and real estate development firm, says downtown property owners are well aware that chains can pay double or more what local businesses can but that, nonetheless, some landlords simply refuse to rent to national and multinational companies.

"Oh yeah, we've done that," says Whalen. "A lot of people who did development in the '90s were very cognizant that it was the local businesses that were the backbone of what downtown was all about."

But in tough economic times with more downtown storefronts coming open, he notes, property owners' commitment to keeping things local may be sorely tested.

"Everybody's under financial pressure: landlords, business owners, everybody. When people get desperate, different things may happen," he observes.

Until recently, Whalen also chaired the Downtown Commission and served on the Downtown Master Plan Advisory Committee, a group of stakeholders who helped keep a local eye on the draft plan produced by consultants Goody Clancy and passed on to City Council in June. He says the topic of chain stores did come up, but it never really jelled into a firm recommendation.

"There's not a lot of real new protections in the Downtown Master Plan," says Whalen. "That was kind of left for the future if we want to do it."

There was also talk of finding ways to direct chains to other local specialty shopping areas such as Biltmore Village, notes architect Tom Gallaher, who was hired by Goody Clancy to participate in the master-plan meetings. But again, no firm language was formulated, and the document now before Council contains only a general statement acknowledging independent businesses' importance to downtown and urging support for them.

Discussion with the Downtown Commission produced the same result, says Gallaher. "There was no mechanism to sort of say, 'You're OK, you're not.' It certainly was a tempting topic, but it was never a serious pursuit."

Legal obstacles

But even if the will is there, crafting ordinances designed to screen out chain stores is something of a sticky wicket, says Jeff Milchen of the Bozeman, Mont.-based American Independent Business Alliance. Milchen, who gave talks on this very topic to several Asheville groups a few years ago, says legal precedent, including Supreme Court rulings, prohibits discriminating against a business based on its ownership.

Mixed emotions: Asia Mahon, owner of Lexington Avenue dress shop Virtue and president of the eclectic street's merchants association, says independent shop owners are worried about increasing rental prices. Photo by Jonathan Welch

What is allowed, he says, is creating general rules based on the desired character of stores. Architecture and design are the most obvious elements of character, he explains, but it can also include things like standardized merchandise and employee uniforms. Thus, many have eschewed the term "chain store" in favor of the more legally acceptable "formula store."

Another obstacle Asheville might face in attempting to restrict chains is the fact that in many cases, North Carolina municipalities must get permission from the General Assembly to pass certain types of laws. And since many Tar Heel cities are struggling financially and would probably welcome chain stores, "I'm not even sure what we'd be allowed to do," says Whalen.

Nonetheless, there have been some local efforts to investigate the options for controlling the impact of chains downtown. In 2005, Council member Brownie Newman introduced a plan to restructure the city's tax code to ensure that chain businesses pay their fare share of taxes. And requests from the community have led the city attorney to research the issue, Urban Planner Stephanie Monson of the city's Office of Economic Development reports, though so far, no proposals have come before City Council. Meanwhile, apart from some industrial uses and adult establishments, there are very few restrictions on businesses downtown, according to Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch.

"I've heard murmurs of people wanting to do something about it, but it's always been … put on the back burner to deal with later on," says Whalen. "And I'm not sure Urban Outfitters' coming to town and replacing another chain is going to be the straw that broke the camel's back to get people excited about doing something permanent downtown."

A rapid retail shift

But that hasn't prevented people in other cities from tackling the issue. The New Rules Project, a program of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, lists on its Web site a menu of news stories, studies and op-ed pieces concerning the need to support locally owned businesses and keep chains out, and highlighting potential threats to those goals.

Even when only a few chain stores start moving in, communities should be on guard, maintains Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher for the project. "The real reason people become concerned about this is that many of these retailers are looking at the same marketing info. And many are watching one another," she explains, adding, "You can undergo a fairly rapid retail shift."

That financial impact, notes Mitchell (who also chairs the American Independent Business Alliance's board) isn't limited to rent increases. Study after study bears out the fact that national chains put less money back into the community.

In Chicago, she says, one study found that for every $100 spent, locally owned businesses reinvested $68 in the community; for chains, the figure was $43.

Steve Rasmussen, co-founder of Buy Local WNC, agrees. "They suck all the money away; they don't recirculate it," he says. "They don't hire local Web designers; they don't hire local architects; they don't hire local designers. That clothing is made in China, not here."

(Some of Urban Outfitters clothing is made overseas and, in 2008, a group of shareholders asked the company to adopt an international human-rights policy.)

Another strength of independently owned shops, says Mahon, has been their ability to work together. The clothing boutiques on Lexington, she notes, share buying lists to make sure each one carries different product lines. The practice, says Mahon, "is unheard of" — but the result is positive.

"It benefits everybody, because we're all unique, and it makes the shopping experience for the people coming down the street enjoyable. They see something new in every store."

And though Urban Outfitters' arrival is a mark of downtown's success, says Mahon, "We're not excited about Asheville becoming gentrified to where it's going to look like anywhere else you're going to go." Small-business owners, she believes, will simply be forced to work smarter in order to say alive.

In the Mix: Downtown Association President Byron Greiner says downtown needs a blend of independent and chain stores to stay healthy. Photo by Jonathan Welch


"I just think small businesses need to prepare themselves and just stay focused on filling a niche that Urban Outfitters is not filling. And we're going to have to make our business the most welcoming, positive experience for the customer."

A question of semantics?

As with just about everything Asheville, however, there's no standard reaction to the question of chain stores.

Marc McCloud, who owns Orbit DVD, an independent movie-rental business in West Asheville, says he's a fierce defender of mom-and-pop operations — but he also sees the benefits of bigger stores.

"I want everyone to succeed, but personally, I don't have a problem with Urban Outfitters coming in," says McCloud. "I think there might be an opportunity for a whole new clientele of people coming to downtown Asheville."

Small businesses, he maintains, just have to be ready to deal with increased competition and higher rents, noting, "Those are factors you kind of have to be prepared for anyway."

McCloud also sees some hypocrisy in what businesses people say they do and don't like. "They hate Starbucks, but they love Dunkin' Donuts. They hate Wal-Mart, but they love Target. Some people say they would love it if an Apple Store came into downtown. Well, they're a chain."

And therein lies another piece of Asheville's chain dilemma: A number of established downtown businesses, including the Marble Slab Creamery, Kilwin's Chocolates and Ice Cream, Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, Mast General Store, are either chain stores or franchises. And the departure of the CVS that's being replaced by Urban Outfitters sparked much lamentation on the part of downtown residents who shopped there for household necessities.

"The thing is, we have chain stores [now]," says Gallaher. "But they happen to be the chain stores we like."

Invisible hand or hands-on?

Even Starbucks made it past the spray-paint-and-broken-window phase and has no problem filling its seats. But that hasn't seemed to affect the survival of local indie coffee shops, says Greiner, who warns against stigmatizing a business just because another one like it exists someplace else. Greiner was featured in a 2003 Xpress story about chain stores, having opened Anntony's Caribbean Cafe, which had a twin in Charlotte.

"People identified us as a chain," he recalls. "But we were locally owned, hired local employees and paid local taxes." (The local Anntony's closed several years ago, and Greiner now sells real estate with Keller Williams.)

Greiner also rejects the idea that Urban Outfitters won't actively participate in the community. "They are a perfect example of what we want," he asserts, adding that company representatives told the Downtown Association they plan to be involved financially with local charities and nonprofits. Quinn, meanwhile, says the company may offer local artworks for sale on store walls and host local musicians in the store.

It seems worth noting that Asheville hasn't always been off-limits to chains: The evidence is literally written on the walls of its historic structures. Woolworth's and Kress were both national chains whose buildings now house stalls for local artists. It was the Great Depression's economic devastation that emptied downtown of chains, and it was the revitalization drive of the 1980s and '90s that spawned today's predominance of local businesses.

Bob and Ellen Carr own Tops for Shoes, a downtown institution that attracts many out-of-town shoppers. Bob Carr served on a downtown revitalization committee back in the 1980s, when the area was marked by deserted streets and boarded-up storefronts. At that time, a chain like Urban Outfitters would have been ushered in with no questions asked, he maintains.

"Back in the '80s, we would have loved to have them come in. Now that we have all these established businesses, I'm not sure we need them," says Carr. "But they're going to be a draw, and hopefully everybody can share in the retail growth."

And in any case, he thinks it's "inevitable that national chains are going to start looking at Asheville. All you have to do is walk around the streets and see all the people that are out there to know there's a market." But Carr goes on to say that he hopes downtown retains its status as a novel shopping destination. How to make this happen? "I think the marketplace needs to take care of that," he observes.

Not everyone shares Carr's faith, however. Sara Legatski, who owns downtown clothing stores Honeypot and HUNK, worries that Urban Outfitters' arrival heralds the "mall-ification" of downtown.

"We should be discouraging national chains from moving here. They are not compatible with our working infrastructure," she believes. "An 8,000-square-foot store that sells over 30,000 products a year is offering nothing special or niche — [it belongs] in the mall or on Tunnel Road."

Meanwhile, she says, local stores are already suffering enough in the current economic climate.

"There are not enough resources to go around right now, and most independent businesses are running on 60 to 70 percent of their normal income. People are being driven to take out loans to stay afloat, and any competition — especially a multibillion-dollar conglomerate —is certainly threatening," she asserts.

Milchen of the American Independent Business Alliance also thinks there needs to be a more proactive approach to protecting downtown's "funky" character.

"Asheville," he says, "is striking in its core downtown by being dominated by local businesses. That is an asset that should be guarded."

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27 thoughts on “Here comes the chain again

  1. Keith

    “It was the Great Depression’s economic devastation that emptied downtown of chains, and it was the revitalization drive of the 1980s and ’90s that spawned today’s predominance of local businesses.”

    Correction: It was the opening of suburban shopping centers, and the Asheville Mall in the 60s and 70s, and the parallel reaction to the end of legal segregation of White flight from downtown that saw Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Woolworth’s, leave downtown for the Mall.

  2. Claire S.

    While Urban Outfitters is a chain it also offers shoppers more affordable clothing. Some of the local clothing stores do sell corporate brands within their stores, so I don’t see the point of arguing against a chain when they sell similar clothing. To get buy, I understand that local shops have to have higher prices on things but it can become ridiculous. $70.- for a shirt is not realistic. Personally I have not shopped downtown for clothing in about 5 years. I am curious to see what other stores open in the next five years or so.

  3. tatuaje

    ECONOMIC IMPACT OF LOCAL BUSINESSES VS. CHAINS

    A study, commissioned by the Andersonville Development Corporation, finds that locally owned businesses generate 70 percent more local economic impact per square foot than chain stores. The study’s authors, Dan Houston and Matt Cunningham of Civic Economics, analyzed ten locally owned restaurants, retail stores, and service providers in the Andersonville neighborhood on Chicago’s north side and compared them with ten national chains competing in the same categories. They found that spending $100 at one of the neighborhood’s independent businesses creates $68 in additional local economic activity, while spending $100 at a chain produces only $43 worth of local impact. They also found that the local businesses generated slightly more sales per square foot compared to the chains ($263 versus $243). Because chains funnel more of this revenue out of the local economy, the study concluded that, for every square foot of space occupied by a chain, the local economic impact is $105, compared to $179 for every square foot occupied by an independent business.

    http://www.civiceconomics.com/Andersonville
    By Civic Economics, October 2004

    There are PLENTY of studies, from all over the country, that say the same thing.

    http://www.civiceconomics.com/localworks/
    http://www.civiceconomics.com/SF/

    There is no reason that Asheville would be any different.

    But there are also the intangible effects. The benefits of a thriving independent business sector are not limited to the economy. Possibly more important is that small businesses in Asheville define the community’s self-image and are a point of pride for the people. Large businesses, on the other hand, can homogenize Asheville and eliminate the uniqueness that brings people to the area in the first place.

  4. AvlResident

    In addition to studies like the one cited (“A study, commissioned by the Andersonville Development Corporation, finds that locally owned businesses generate 70 percent more local economic impact per square foot than chain stores. . .”), are there studies that show what happens to independent businesses when “formula stores” move in? Are there data available to show if independent stores are hurt or helped? Have the independent bookstores in Asheville been affected by the presence of Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million? What was the Boulder experience with trying to limit formula stores? A very good article, that would be helped with more data, in addition to opinions voiced by the various speakers.

  5. ashevillelokel

    Isn’t “downtowns” where businesses, chain or otherwise, are supposed to be located?

    If one looks at old photographs of Asheville downtown the entire city was once home to nothing but national chains …

    Why don’t we run the banks out of downtown while we are at it, and the brokerage firms, and the realty franchises as well!

  6. Downtown Resident

    I live Downtown and, currently, I do not shop or eat Downtown which I find defeats the purpose. I would like to say, “let the chain stores and restaurants back in.” They can take some of this old real estate left to rot since the rent is too high for local business owners. Its fun to visit all of the locally-owned shops as a tourist, but they are unrealistic to actual locals. Realistically, the people who live here do not get paid enough to shop here. I wish someone would buy that 300,000 sq ft building below the Civic Center and turn it into a grocery store, IKEA, or something useful like the Old Pottery Store they have in Wilmington, NC. Let’s preserve history that is worth preserving, and move foward.

  7. Lin Orndorf

    National chains in Asheville? In this economy, or maybe in any economy, there is a sense of “damned if we, damned if we don’t.” Some of the chains and franchises we already have are small and/or limited at least to the Southeast region. Franchises typically are owned and operated by a local resident, ensuring that more of the income generated by the business stays in Asheville or Buncombe County. That doesn’t happen with the larger chains, the money goes to the city of their corporate headquarters as do the salaries.

    When thinking about Asheville’s economy, we need to keep in mind that throughout its history, Asheville has been a tourist destination. A big reason for that is Asheville has always been an interesting town or had something out of the ordinary to offer. If we litter the streets of the Downtown District with national chains like Starbucks that are found in nearly every other city and town across the country, will Asheville still be the funky, artsy, interesting and unique destination for tourists, especially in an economy that makes one think twice about booking a flight or packing the car for a road trip? Why would they want to come here if they can drink the same coffee and shop in the same stores at home? Why not encourage “the chains” to stay out of our beautiful and unique Downtown District?

    Also, national corporations are able to pay higher rents and rent more space but that comes at a cost to everyone else. The jobs they may create are notoriously low-paying, I know because I used to work for one of those corporations. Their ability to pay high rents drives rent up for other merchants who care more about their staff and the community. Once those merchants are driven out, we would lose jobs.

    So what do we really gain from the chains? Nothing but the further homogenization of our city into the same-old, same-old of everywhere else. It’s actually good to be different, let’s stay that way.

  8. Joann

    Living here is great. But living here in the winter time when all the tourist have gone, leaves a terrible open space of nothingness in uptown. All business struggles, because there is nothing to attract the local population, which should be the bread-n-butter for any city. This city will regress, become the place it was before it’s uptown revival, without local patronage. Keep a standard lower rent for locals, let the big guns pay big with their huge budgets. Don’t let Asheville become the next “ghost town in the sky”.

  9. entopticon

    I think it is perfectly reasonable and sensible for people to be afraid of chains taking over the character of downtown and putting less back into the economy than many local businesses. We should always reach out to help support local businesses and work on ways to help them survive and thrive.

    That said, it seems that a false binary polemic is being presented here. The two things that are being compared are chain stores and independent stores, but that isn’t really the case. In reality, the actual comparison is between a chain store and an empty, dilapidated building that no local businesses have expressed an interest in.

    If there was a local business that wanted to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into revamping that eyesore of a building, it would make sense to bend over backwards to help them do that, but that is not the case. UO has an impressive history of revitalizing dilapidated urban spaces, and they even won the top award from the National Historical Preservation Society for just that.

    When comparing the actual options, which is to welcome UO in spending a small fortune to renovate that building along with trying to work with local vendors, shops, and artisans, verses leaving the spot there to deteriorate without any of the benefits of having an active business there, the former makes far more sense. Yes it’s a tradeoff, but sensible urban planning necessitates tradeoffs. Inflexible demagogues from either side prevent reasoned balance.

    Ironically, in the past I have vehemently defended Hunk here on the XPress site from many of the very same criticisms that are now being leveled at UO, so I was a bit surprised to see Sara’s take in this article. Hunk is a fine store that sells the work of awesome local designers as well as some of the very same brands that UO has carried. We should do everything that we can to support Hunk and Honeypot; I know that I have spent money at both. I think it would be wise for Sara and Trevor (a great guy) to work with UO, along with the other retailers in town, to find ways to foster thriving business for all.

  10. Piffy!

    It seems to me that attempting to characterize the debate as “Chains vs. Local” might not be entirely fair or accurate, although it certainly polarizes debate and moves papers.

    Much of the criticism I have heard of UO in particular has to do with the specifics of their hiring and business practices, as well as the potential negative impact on their more locally-based competitors in the community, as well as the fear that it may be seen as yet another of more to come intrusions upon a downtown structure that is relatively removed from the cut and paste clutter of a typical american main street.

    Yes, it is hypocritical for someone to rail against chains taking over asheville while wanting a Mac Store and enjoying the awesome ice cream at marble slab. But that is certainly not the whole debate, or even a reasonable portion of it. The raw numbers that deal with how much money stays in circulation in our economy is the real issue.

  11. Lynn Craig Smith

    Personally I don’t care one way or the other if big business moves in downtown. They seem to pop up eventually. In our current times, if a company can offer new jobs to the area, I say ‘yes’. The smaller stores can hire maybe one or two employees but the chain store higher 10-20 people or more. It is sad to see it happen, but if there is any benefit from it why not take it.
    In response to the quote:
    “People are being driven to take out loans to stay afloat”-
    If a business is taking out loans to stay open or using credit cards to keep afloat, you should probably look into other options and try to make changes to lower costs. Sounds like a sinking ship that needs to be sunk, and will eventually.

  12. Jason

    Are we going to beat this dead horse again?

    By the way there are around 11,000 Starbucks locations in the US, Urban Outfitters has 124. Let’s not even try to compare the two, and their effects on an urban economy. What if a Trader Joe’s wanted to go in there? Would people be as upset? It’s a chain. I bet that in every city that now has a UO there are still boutiques, consignment, and vintage stores that thrive alongside them. If you’re worried about driving up the prices of rents, isn’t that a problem of the building owners. If they really cared about downtown they wouldn’t rent/sell them to these companies. Why aren’t we getting mad at them? The only valid argument against them that I see is precedent. Other stores might follow, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll spend as much as UO is planning to spend, when they could go to some strip mall for considerably less.

  13. Carrie

    Everyone I’ve talked to thinks that UO will attract people to downtown, not just tourists, for a day of shopping. It isn’t already in the mall or on Tunnel. (the mall sucks, was also the consensus)

    I also agree, I’m tired of this being a ghost town after the last leaf has fallen!

  14. Piffy!

    [b]I also agree, I’m tired of this being a ghost town after the last leaf has fallen! [/b]

    That is my favorite time to be in WNC, and the only time I ever really want to go to Downtown Asheville any more.

  15. Carol

    Asheville-downtown- has lost so much of it’s charm.
    Locals who built this city are being driven out.
    I’m glad I moved out three years ago.
    So long Ashe, it was nice for a spell.

  16. That is my favorite time to be in WNC, and the only time I ever really want to go to Downtown Asheville any more.

    Then can I expect you in November?

  17. BGCauble

    Let the market/consumer decide. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Or, should be about? Downtown Asheville will always be unique and funky. Censorship is censorship. What if people decide they no longer want clothing made out of hemp in our downtown? Ridiculous? Of course, but so is trying to control what type of businesses locate downtown. Before you know it, you’re going to have win a popularity contest to even own a business downtown. And, when do we decide that there are already too many restaurants or nightclubs in downtown and no one else can open such a venue? This town is way too full of people who like telling others what they can do, while demanding they be able to do their own thing. Troublesome.

  18. Piffy!

    [b]Censorship is censorship.[/b]

    “Censorship”??

    [b]so is trying to control what type of businesses locate downtown.[/b]

    How is it that people expressing their opinion on the particular business in question translated into “Control”? People are supposed to express their differing opinions. That is how a community dialogue operates. Nobody has said anything about “Controlling” anyone else.

    [b]This town is way too full of people who like telling others what they can do, while demanding they be able to do their own thing.[/b]

    The hyperbole here is asinine. A healthy debate requires multiple sides have their opinion heard. Again, there is no comment in this thread, or idea expressed in this article that implies anyone wishes to “Control” what goes where. Nobody is expressing a desire to impose their view on others. Just people trying to get their side of things heard, right or wrong.

  19. entopticon

    I don’t entirely agree with BGCauble, but I think that his point that some people would like to make a law against any further chain stores, as mentioned above, is hardly hyperbole; it is a fact.

    For better or for worse, some people would in fact like to control what types of businesses can and can’t operate downtown. As a matter of fact, right there in the article it talks about how Elaine Light has proposed a ban on chains in the city center.

    So the (RU486), you might want to bother to actually reading the article before calling someone asinine next time, since in this case it was clearly you that was irrefutably wrong about the facts.

  20. Hyperbole

    Right, entopticon-Because Elaine Light definitely constitutes a significant portion of Asheville. And where are the rest of these examples?…

    BG might as well have said “Asheville is full of people who believe they can talk to trees” or “Everyone against large chains is a registered member of the Socialist Party”.

  21. Hyper Bowl

    I, for one, am sick and tired of all these anarchists whining about Urbane Outfits who, clearly, wish to require everyone who shops in Asheville to wear funny hats that aren’t even vegan friendly! This is Censorship! What about the First Amendment?! And the Fourth?!

  22. entopticon

    Wtf are you talking about hyperbole? The (PFKaP) said that: “Again, there is no comment in this thread, or idea expressed in this article that implies anyone wishes to “Control” what goes where.”

    He misspoke, because there are indeed people who would want to control which businesses can and and can’t operate downtown, as evidenced by Elaine Light’s proposal to ban chains from the downtown area that is mentioned in the above article.

    That’s all there is to it. I never said anything about how significant of a portion of Asheville Elaine Light constitutes. For better or worse, she certainly isn’t alone. If you think Elaine is the only person in Asheville who would like to ban chains from downtown, (for better or for worse) you are delusional.

  23. Rob Close

    If you don’t like the chain, don’t shop there, problem solved.

    That said, limiting the amount of big chain stores in order to retain our touristy-charm makes plenty of sense.

    And Byron’s statement of “If you really think about it, downtown can’t survive just on independent businesses.” just makes me think that he really hasn’t thought about it. The only chain at all in downtown that seemed crucial was the CVS; it’s gone, and downtown has survived. All those chains that are helping downtown “survive” are just lame restaurants as far as I can think, at this late hour…

  24. jenny

    I think it is funny that downtown Asheville is so much different than the rest of Asheville. People must not care about that fact. Biltmore Village was recently taken over by mostly chains such as J.Crew and Chico’s, but it isn’t an issue unless it affects certain local retailers. Nobody cares that a ton of chains moved in down there. There is no law that can stop a chain from moving in, otherwise you’d have to get rid of such eateries as Doc Chey’s and Mellow Mushroom which are chains. Is it just chain merchandise retailers that are the issue? I am confused.

  25. mscynical

    First off, it was mentioned that chains pay less than local businesses. I wonder how much a local business, like Kilwins or Izzy’s pays it’s employees?

    Do they have benefit packages, can they feed their families? Wait most of them don’t have families, they are usually kids or college students that are just temporarily employed anyways. The same type of employess UO will have.

    Clothing options for downtown shoppers are usually “artsy” and very expensive. I’ve been in Asheville for over 2 years and I personally can’t afford a $200 blouse, or a $400 pair of shoes.

    Let’s be honest. How many “locals” actually shop downtown for its clothing? Probably none.

    Most locals say they hate downtown, so what does it matter what businesses are there.

    As many have stated, people want to pick and chose what chains go where. Ashevillians seem to love Earth Fare, (btw that’s a chain) and it’s located in several states as well as Fresh Market and yes I know they aren’t downtown.

    People seem to hate Starbucks, (though a chain) many are franchised, which makes them a local business. but they are never as empty as some of the other coffee shops, that I’ve visited. Plus who wants to pay hunt for a parking space just for a cup of coffee. (That’s just an example of how inconvenient is to shop downtown).

    I have taken several business courses over the years, and one thing I learned about marketing strategies, is that there is something for everyone.

    People in this thread have often spoken about the charm of downtown Asheville, what’s charming about boarded up buildings? Which downtown has several of. In the last year alone, I’ve have seen businesses move due to rent hikes and there has been no new business to replace it.

    Change happens. Period. Get used to it.

    Coke never hurt Pepsi, McDonald’s doesn’t put Burger King out of business. Shop where you want.

    If you are one of the fortunate few that can actually furnish your wardrobe by shopping in the Grove Arcade, Topps, and places like Ariele, dine at table and afford the rest of downtown’s attractions, then the economy hasn’t affected you one bit.

    But for those of us locals that like bargains, a chain like Urban Outfitters will be more fitting to the realistically budget conscious folks, will probably have more markdowns and more variety in which to chose from.

    Last comment, the homogenization of the downtowns of America is gone. The malls took care of that.

    Most downtowns across the country, that ones that are thriving anyway, usually cater to small business. And most, will have at least one or two chains stores. My favorite funky downtown is Northampton, Mass while probably over 95 percent are local, they have 3 chain stores, Brueggers Bagels, CVS and Ten Thousand Villages, and I’m sure they help each other our in one way shape or form.

    THE END!

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